February 05, 2023

Budget Attacks Farmers & Workers with Vengeance: AIKS

THE Union Budget 2023-24 presented by the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman is a Budget for the rich, prepared at the behest of the corporate cronies; it is against the interests of the farmers, the poor and toiling masses. It was high on rhetoric and hollow on actual allocations for agriculture and rural development. The BJP government has refused to implement the minimum support prices as per the MS Swaminathan Commission recommendations of C2+50 per cent nor ensured legal guarantee for MSP, leading to increasing distress for farmers. This budget does nothing to mitigate the situation. The BJP government is exacting a revenge from farmers for the humiliating defeat suffered by it at the hands of the historic united farmers’ movement which forced it to withdraw the three pro-corporate farm acts. There has been a drastic cut on expenditure for rural employment, MGNREGA, food Security, fertiliser subsidy etc.

This budget coming at a time when uncertainties loom large due to the recession, the threats of climate change and other exigencies, fails to generate confidence in the farmers. There is nothing in it to enhance incomes of the peasantry and toiling masses. The budget estimate for agriculture has been substantially reduced from Rs 1,24,000 crores in 2022-23 to Rs 1,15,531.79 crores this year. Actually, there has been a comprehensive reduction in budgetary allocations for agriculture in this budget.

The much-hyped Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi has seen no increase from last year. The allocation is Rs 60,000 crores. If the government’s claim of about 12 crore beneficiaries is taken then at least Rs 72,000 crores should have been allocated. Even on the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, in comparison with the 2022-23 budget estimates of Rs 15,500 crores, this budget only has set Rs 13,625 crores. Green revolution which was earlier advertised as core scheme and had an allocation of Rs 6,747 crores in 2021-22 has had no allocation in the last as well as the present budget. There has been a drastic cut in fertiliser subsidies from Rs 2,25,000 crores in 2022-23 revised estimates to Rs 1,75,000 crores in budget estimates of 2023-24, a 22 per cent cut of Rs 50,000 crore. Such a move could have an adverse impact on productivity and impact production of food grains. The much-touted allocation for natural farming this year appears to be marginal at Rs 459 crores. The allocation for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana has been drastically cut from Rs 10,433 crores to Rs 7,150 crores. The allocation for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sinchai Yojna has been cut from Rs 12,954 crores in 2022-23 BE to Rs 10,787 Crore in the present budget. The allocation for Market Intervention and Price Support Scheme which was Rs 1500 crores in 2022-23 revised estimates does not find any mention in the 2023-24 budget.

The allocation for rural employment which was Rs 1,53,525.41 crores in the revised estimates of 2022-23 has been drastically cut to Rs 1,01,474.51 crores in the 2023-24 budget estimates. The allotment for MGNREGA has been cut from Rs 89,000 crores in revised estimate of 2022-23 to merely Rs 60,000 crores in the 2023-24 budget estimates. This is at a time when an estimated 2.72 lakh crores are required if the government intends to provide the legally guaranteed 100 days of employment.  The budgetary allocations disregards its own Economic Survey which showed that demand under the rural employment scheme was still higher than the pre-pandemic period, pointing towards rural distress. There have been continuous reports of inadequate fund allocations under the vital scheme which has led to delayed payments and stoppage of work across states, and thus squeezing out available days of employment. This year’s budget reflects the apathy of the government towards the country’s rural poor. The allocation for Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana has also been cut from Rs 5758 crore to Rs 2273 crores. All talk of generating two crore employment every year has been conveniently forgotten.

The biggest fall has been seen in the food subsidy bill, from Rs 2,87,194 crores in RE of 2022-23 to Rs 1,97,350 crores in BE of 2023-34, a whopping reduction of 31 per cent. The narrative built around free ration allocation under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, replacing the pandemic time additional foodgrain scheme in actual is a farce. The clear intention is to reduce spending on food security and the public distribution system. The reduced food subsidy bill has direct consequences for procurement of foodgrains. The budgetary allocations for decentralised procurement to foodgrains under the National Food Security Act has been reduced from Rs 72,282.50 crores in RE (2022-23) to just Rs 59,793.00 crores in this year’s BE, a reduction of close to Rs 12,500 crores or 17 per cent. The allocation for food subsidy to Food Corporation of India has been drastically cut from      Rs 1,45,920 crores to Rs 1,37,207 crores a cut of Rs 8,713 crores. These steps are cause for concern not just from the point of farmers’ incomes but also India’s food security when inflationary trends cannot be totally discounted.

The budget also smacks of a blatant effort to centralise cooperatives and bring in an environment for control by the union government. This is against the rights of states under a federal system. Tall claims about setting an agriculture accelerator fund to encourage agri startups and decentralised cold storages etc are part of the regular rhetoric. It is likely to meet the same fate as the agriculture infrastructure fund which was also announced with much fanfare; it was allocated Rs 500 crores in 2022-23, but brought down to only Rs 150 crores in the revised estimates. The talk of a digital public infrastructure for agriculture also is aimed at helping corporate companies rather than farmers.

All talk of amrit kaal, is hollow and no substantial relief has been provided for India’s food producers, toiling masses and poor. Claims made in the finance minister’s speech come out as utter lies, once actual allocations are taken note of. The last full budget of this government does not commit anything to disown its anti-people, anti-farmer, and anti-worker policies. It only further bolsters it. The budget offers no relief to the masses in terms of health, education or social security. The BJP government has also exposed its communal character by drastically cutting allocation for the umbrella programme for development of minorities by Rs 1200 crores from Rs 1810 crores to Rs 610 crores.

AIKS calls upon all its units to rise in protest against this anti-farmer, anti-worker, pro-corporate budget by uniting with all peasants and workers to expose the betrayal by the Narendra Modi led BJP government.