The union budget 2019 is heralding towards ‘New India’ approach and intention to trigger a high rate of growth and becoming a $5 trillion economy in the coming few years. India has the issue of access to opportunities to the majority of its population. The access has to be in real terms of equity and hand holding. Agriculture and rural distress is the focus I am dwelling upon. The two areas are infrastructure and sustainable new livelihood opportunities.
Rural distress has to be addressed in terms of quality infrastructure. The budget has indicated nearly Rs 1 lakh crore of provisioning for infrastructure. Some basic non-negotiable if listed will ensure systematic growth. Every village to be connected by quality road under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Every lane in the village to have a concrete road with drainage (14th and State Finance Commission directly devolved to panchayat), piped drinking water (as is announced in the budget), ensure sustainable source for the water for the piped water supply, toilets (Swacha Bharat Abhiyan), house (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana), quality school buildings, anganwadis, supplementary food and public distribution system arrangements and then their maintenance. The budgetary provisioning and then listing of achievements, in days of IT, has to be village wise so that they are not mere figures but reflect with geo-tagging.
The second challenge is creating employment for 65 percent of the young population in India that is sustainable and less skilled. The options are to enhance the productivity of the land and it requires irrigation. The budget does talk of concerns on water and major focus on water preservation. On the face of it may look contradictory but it can be complementary by ensuring the distribution system instead of open channels be with steel pipes. That will save the cost of land acquisition and delays escalation of cost. The pipes to spread underground and can be done along with dam construction and drip irrigation be made mandatory. This will save water as no wastage and also enable to optimise every drop of water. Handholding will go a long way.
The micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector is to spread for value addition to agriculture produce right in the vicinity. Let me work on an example of mint leaves sold as vegetable or methanol is extracted and sold. This kind of value addition will create jobs in the hinterland and trigger sustainable employment source. The budget focus on MSME, when channelled in the right direction, will enable to create jobs. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is indicated to be simplified and will go a long way to provide a comfort zone to MSMEs.
The larger perspective with a focus on infrastructure will ensure steel consumption to go up and so of cement. The financing of these projects if by using more of steel is expedited and will attract the investors as the returns will start in a short time.
The budget, if the focus on optimising available resources besides looking for more resources, at least in the hinterland as discussed above will trigger visible impact and generate local employment opportunities. The budget with listed vision and road map is to get into nitty gritty and not pass on a state responsibility as optimisation of resources after the GST regime is centre stage. Maximum impact with optimal expenditure is the mantra.
Aruna Sharma is a former secretary at the ministry of steel, government of India. The views are personal.