THE All India Agricultural Workers Union, in a statement issued on January 30, has called on the finance minister to ensure that at least 5 per cent of the GDP is spent on agriculture, which has gone down sharply in growth since last year. Also there is a situation where farmers are ploughing back potatoes into their fields, throwing tomatoes on to the roads and in general failing to get the prices demanded under the Swaminathan formula for minimum support price which the present government had promised to implement in its election manifesto. This failure of the NDA government should be corrected in the forthcoming budget.
The increasing burden of rural unemployment as a result of the failure of the government to invest in agriculture has reached the 18 million mark, which requires the investment of a minimum of Rs 1 lakh 60 thousand crores on MNREGA work, saving a lot of lives especially as neither machines nor contractors are permitted under this legislation. It is therefore the most effective safety net to prevent undue migration under difficult conditions and work within reach of one’s home, which is both more economical and creates less hardship. It is time the government realizes that this legislation is the most useful to prevent rural distress among the most deprived sections of the rural community. So far the Government of India has failed to provide even a third of this amount and it has never been implemented as it should be. In fact, the days of work under MNREGA should be increased to 250 days a year with a minimum daily wage of Rs 300.
Another pressing demand is the necessity of providing proper wages for rural anganwadi and mid-day meal workers so that these necessary tasks are implemented as they are intended to be. At the same time there is a pressing demand that sanitary napkins should not be taxed under the GST as they are at present. In fact, they should be distributed free at the village level.
The restrictive use of Aadhaar cards to access social welfare benefits and subsidised food should be discontinued as it prevents lakhs of people all over the country from getting what is due to them. The way in which the Aadhaar cards are made leaves much to be desired. Many old age pensioners and village people do not have proper finger prints, names and other details because of faulty filling in of information or the over use of their hands.
AIAWU further demands that child labour should be eliminated by providing free primary education for all within three kilometers of the residence. In order to ensure this 60 per cent of the education budget should be spent on rural education while the loans that the government gives to educational institutions should not form part of this budget allocation.
AIAWU has also demanded that dalit sub-plans, scholarships, medical aid and special police out-post to prevent atrocities taking place against them be also included in the union budget specifically. At the same time the budget allocation for rural health centres be increased to provide free health care and medicines to the rural population. It would welcome a rural household scheme to be launched in this budget as well as schemes for hand pumps and rural lavatories for all in the villages. This requires an increase in the budgetary allocation for these in this year’s budget. This is the least government can do to ease the burden the rural poor and peasantry are facing today.