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Despite ensuing polls, Interim Budget 2024 has left country's farmers 'most disappointed'

By Vikas Parasram Meshram 
If politics and other sensational things are ignored, it is unfortunate that the farmers who grow food for the country take to the streets for their demands. Although the Central and Haryana governments are showing strictness in view of the violent incidents and the Red Fort incident during the long-running farmers' agitation in 2020-21, erecting huge barricades and nailing the roads where the farmers are protesting cannot be said to be doing a good job for the farmers. 
The administration is facing the problem of law and order and there is a possibility of interference from anarchist elements during such agitation. Such measures may be necessary for the safety of common citizens, but the question arises as to why such a situation arises. Why sensitive initiatives are not taken on the fair issues of farmers in time? 
The Central government had enough time to implement the issues related to the agreement after a long protest against the three agricultural laws. It would have been better if the initiative had been taken to fulfill some of the demands. 
However, the government has argued that bringing every crop under MSP would not be practical in such a large country and would put a huge strain on the economy. 
But despite this, it must be admitted that agriculture has become a loss-making business today. Suicide of farmers should be seen in connection with this. The new generation is now moving away from agriculture. 
Undoubtedly, the nature of Indian agriculture has not been purely commercial, but let us remember that half of the country's population is directly and indirectly dependent on agriculture and allied occupations. Therefore, there is a need to make agriculture profitable. Some moderate way can be taken to remove the discontent of the farmers. 
The farmers are agitating for the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, pension for farm labourers, farmer loan waiver, withdrawal from World Trade Organization agreement, withdrawal of crimes against farmers and financial compensation to the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri incident.
Given this framework, the Interim Budget 2024 has left the country's farmers most disappointed. Although the government has been consistently attacking schemes and subsidies for agriculture and farmers over the past few years, compared to other sectors, as this budget comes ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, farmers, the largest segment of the country's population, had high expectations from this budget. 
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned the country's farmers several times in her budget speech and even described them as the backbone of the country's progress, but a perusal of her budget reveals that her mention of farmers is irrelevant. 
On budget allocation, it is a fact that the budget of most of the schemes related to the agriculture sector has been ruthlessly cut this time. Farmers in the country are drowning in debt in an effort to feed the country, but the budget does not mention loan waiver. Farmers were hoping that Modi would waive off the farmers' anger as well as fulfill a long-awaited important demand of farmers across the country. 
Farmers were also more hopeful that the Guaranteed Price Act would be announced to provide a minimum support price for each crop, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, himself had demanded. He was advocating the need for 'MSP Guarantee Act' for farmers before the government. 
And now that the ball is in his court for the last ten years, the farmers were hoping that Modi would score in their favour this time. But Modi didn't even think about releasing the ball by scoring a goal alone. And there is a big cut in the farmers' scheme, there is a talk of increasing the amount of Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi from Rs 6000 to Rs 12000 to bring all farmers under its ambit. 
In this regard, according to media data, around 13.50 crore farmers were given 'PM Kisan Samman Nidhi' in the name of the Prime Minister at the beginning of this scheme. That is, when the Yojana started, it was like a full moon, but by the time the 11th installment came, it had gradually shrunk towards a second moon. The number of beneficiaries of this scheme has reduced to only 3.5 crore. 
The government has consistently shown its way out of the scheme by declaring that majority of farmers are ineligible, hence the number of farmers benefiting from it and its amount and installments have been reduced. After declaring majority of farmers ineligible, the amount deposited in their accounts is now being strictly recovered. Thus, the faith of the farmers is also destroyed and the fund is also sinking. 
The list of the beneficiary farmers was prepared by the government departments, their bank accounts were opened by the bank officials and the amount was deposited by the Prime Minister's office.  The question is how the farmers were held responsible for the mistakes made in it? Like last year, even though there is a provision of Rs 60,000 crore in the budget for this scheme, it has not yet been decided how many farmers it will reach.
If we talk about the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, its previous budget was Rs 1.25 lakh crore, while this year's budget has been set at Rs 1.27 lakh crore. From the point of view of economics, this budget is lower than last year's budget considering the current inflation rate. Rs 4,000 crore was given for the Market Intervention Scheme and Price Support Scheme launched in 2022-23 to protect farmers from market fluctuations. This year the amount was expected to increase further, but this time no amount was given for this scheme. 
Another scheme in the budget is that four crore farmers have been brought under the ambit of insurance benefits, the finance minister claimed in the budget. There are about 20 crore farming families in the country. That means only 20 percent farmers can get insurance benefit. The budget of the PM Crop Insurance Scheme announced in the name of the Prime Minister has also been cut. A budget of Rs 14,600 crore has been earmarked for this scheme, while last year it was Rs 15,000 crore. 
Similarly, the budget of the Pradhan Mantri Annadata Income Protection Yojana (PM ASHA) has been reduced by Rs 463 crore to Rs 1,737 crore from the revised estimate of Rs 2,200 crore for the current financial year. Another scheme of the Prime Minister for the farmers, PM Kisan Sampada Yojana, has also been reduced, for which Rs 729 crore has been allocated against the previous allocation of Rs 923 crore. Another ambitious scheme, PM Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana, also run in the name of the Prime Minister, has been revised to Rs 100 crore from the revised estimate of Rs 138 crore. 
Pulses are the main source of protein in the diet of vegetarians in the country. The government had allocated Rs 800 crore for pulses in the state in the last budget. But even this time this plan has not got any allocation. A special point to mention here is that many discussions, seminars have been organized on organic/ natural farming throughout the year, but in the budget, there is no budget for organic farming as compared to the subsidy given on chemical fertilizers. There has been a cut in the budget of schemes that promote natural farming. Last year's budget of Natural National Mission was Rs 459 crore, it has been decreased to Rs 366 crore. Farmers are disappointed.
The Union ministers' marathon talks with farmers before the start of the farmers' agitation remained inconclusive. After that the farmer leaders decided to march towards Delhi. The farmers know that pressure can be put on the Central government when the general elections are looming in the country. They strongly urge legislation to guarantee a minimum base price. 
There is no doubt that any organization has the constitutional right to protest. But efforts should be made to ensure that the agitation does not take a violent form and that the agitation reaches its logical conclusion in a planned manner. Although the problems of the farmers are in their own place, due to the strategy planned by the government to stop the farmers, the common man is facing great difficulties. 
Farmers from Punjab and Haryana are mainly involved in the movement and internet services have been shut down in many districts. 
Passengers are wandering on the alternative route decided by the government and the administration for the passengers. Due to the blockade in Delhi, there has been a huge traffic jam and people have been stuck in traffic jam for three to four hours. In many places, people expressed their anger towards the farmers. There has also been a reaction from the Supreme Court regarding the improvement of the transport system. 
Undoubtedly, farmers should raise their just demands, while the government should also show sensitivity towards farmers' concerns. After the comments of the political parties on the movement, the message should not be sent to the rest of the country that the movement has political implications. At the same time, the farmers should also keep in mind the challenges that will come in farming in the future. 
Efforts should be intensified for long term goals including global warming, groundwater crisis and other shortages. The Central government should also consider why there is a delay in implementing the recommendations of agricultural scientist Swaminathan, who was awarded Bharat Ratna award this month.

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