Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, presenting the Union Budget for 2019/20, laid out 16 action points to revive the struggling agriculture sector and said a provision of Rs 2.83 lakh crore had been set aside for this, the rural sector and allied activities. Elaborating on these, which include providing solutions to farmers affected by the water crisis and plans to improve the country's marine fishery resources, Ms Sitharaman said the government was "committed to doubling farm income by 2022".
The Economic Survey, presented yesterday by Chief Economic Advisor KV Subramanian, said issues like investment in agriculture, water conservation and improved yields through better farming practices needed urgent attention. The report also highlighted issues like farmers' access to market, the availability of institutional credit and increasing links between agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.
Seeking to address some of these points, Ms Sitharaman announced plans by the Indian Railways to run a "Kisan Rail" that will provide refrigerated coaches in trains, thereby helping farmers access faraway markets quickly, cheaply and efficiently.
The Finance Minister also announced a Krishi Udaan - a tie-up with the Civil Aviation Ministry to help farmers transport grains and produce by air - would be launched on both national and international routes, saying this would "especially help the North East".
Continuing to focus on issues of storage and warehousing, she said NABARD (National Bank for Rural and Agricultural Development) would map and geotag cold storage and warehousing facilities to help farmers locate them quickly.
The government will push for more such facilities and encourage PPP models in this space.
Urging farmers to think of alternative use for barren lands, such as setting up solar farms, she also said the government would provide 20 lakh farmers with facilities for standalone solar pumps and 15 lakh with solar-powered, grid-connected pump sets.
Integrated farming systems in rain-fed areas will be expanded, she added.
"Our government shall encourage balanced use of all kinds of fertilisers, including traditional organic to discourage use of chemical fertilisers," Ms Sitharaman added.
Outlining her plans for the agriculture sector Nirmala Sitharaman also spoke about a "blue economy", saying the government had plans to improve returns from marine fishery resources. She said that by 2022/23 fish production would be raised to 200 lakh tonnes.
In her speech she also called on states to follow model laws as passed by the centre.
Ms Sitharaman, who also said more women-oriented self-help groups would be set up, noted that horticulture had exceeded production of food grains and the government proposed to support states on a "1 product, 1 district" platform.
In her budget today Ms Sitharaman will be expected to find answers to a downward-spiralling GDP growth rate; this slowed to 4.5 per cent in the July-September quarter - the weakest pace since 2013.
In addition, consumer inflation - rate of increase in consumer prices - has worsened to a more than five-year high thanks to rising prices of vegetables, especially onion.
Problems of rising prices and poor tax collection have been made worse by high unemployment levels; as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), current unemployment rate is at 7.5 per cent.
Ms Sitharaman must balance all these issues hampered by a shortfall in tax collections in this fiscal that amounts to nearly Rs 2 lakh crore.