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Going the extra mile for the farmer

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Projects that could make a difference to Rural India have been placed in the limelight. The government has been liberal in scaling up fund allocation and hopes this will improve the well being of the farmer.

AS always, our Government's focus is on agriculture. Assured irrigation, credit, diversification and creating a market for agricultural products are the thrust areas.

The National Agricultural Insurance Scheme will be continued in its present form for Kharif and Rabi 2006-07.

More cover for irrigation

Out of an outlay of Rs 4,500 crore under AIBP in 2005-06, the grant component is Rs 1,680 crore. The States are expected to spend about Rs 2,520 crore from their resources, and 25 projects are expected to be completed before the year-end. The outlay for 2006-07 has been increased to Rs 7,121 crore, and the Central Government will support the programme through a grant of Rs 2,350 crore. The Ministry of Water Resources will revamp the Command Area Development Programme to allow participatory irrigation management through water users' associations.

The programme for repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies is being implemented through pilot projects in 23 districts in 13 States. The design of the programme has been finalised in consultation with the States. 20,000 water bodies with a command area of 1.47 million hectares have been identified in the first phase. The estimated cost is Rs 4,481 crore.

The funding pattern (Centre, States and external assistance) has been finalised, and I intend to seek, and receive, funds from multi-lateral agencies. The participating State Government will be requested to sign a memorandum of understanding and the water bodies in that State will be taken up for repair, renovation and restoration in 2006-07.

no harm in credit

Farm credit increased to Rs 1,25,309 crore in 2004-05 (well above the target) and is again expected to cross the target of Rs 1,41,500 crore set for the current year. I propose to ask the banks to increase the level of credit to Rs 1,75,000 crore in 2006-07 and also add another 50 lakh farmers to their portfolio.

We shall not only achieve but also exceed the target of doubling farm credit in three years. Since tenant farmers are not adequately served, I have asked the banks to open a separate window for self-help groups or joint liability groups of tenant farmers and ensure that a certain proportion of the total credit is extended to them. I intend to monitor closely progress in this behalf.

A compassionate approach

I am aware of the severe difficulties faced by farmers in the last two years. Ours is a compassionate Government. I also have severe fiscal constraints. When faced with a dilemma, I usually turn to my favourite poet-philosopher, Saint Tiruvalluvar. Writing over 2,000 years ago, he said:

"Karumam Sidhaiyamal Kannoda Vallarku

Urimai Udaithu Iv Ulagu"

(The world is his who does his job with compassion)

I am prepared to go the extra mile to come to the aid of our farmers. To begin with, I propose to grant some relief to the farmers who have availed of crop loans from scheduled commercial banks, RRBs and PACS for Kharif and Rabi 2005-06.

Accordingly, an amount equal to two percentage points of the borrower's interest liability on the principal amount up to Rs 1,00,000, will be credited to his/her bank account before March 31, 2006. I have provided a sum of Rs 1,700 crore for this purpose.

Loan at 7 per cent

Farmers obtain short-term credit from the cooperative credit structure and Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), with refinance from Nabard.

Increasingly, scheduled commercial banks are also lending more to farmers. It is my intention to ensure that Nabard continues to provide refinance at an economical rate, so that the farmer ultimately gets the loan at a reasonable rate.

Accordingly, after giving anxious consideration to market conditions, Government has decided to ensure that the farmer receives short-term credit at 7 per cent, with an upper limit of Rs 300,000 on the principal amount. This would require a certain level of subvention to Nabard. I propose to give the subvention. This policy will come into force with effect from Kharif 2006-07, and I shall make a detailed statement in due course.

Thrust on rural infrastructure

The Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) has so far disbursed funds in 11 tranches. RIDF XI sanctions have touched a level of Rs 7,301 crore as on January 31. A special feature this year has been that Rs 346 crore has been sanctioned to the north-eastern States.

This sum is likely to touch Rs 600 crore by the year-end. Keeping in view the expanding requirements for creating rural infrastructure, I propose to increase the corpus of RIDF XII to Rs 10,000 crore, and I urge State Governments to make the best use of these funds.

I also propose to allow specified projects under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to access RIDF funds.

The rural roads component of Bharat Nirman requires large funds.

Hence, I propose to open a separate window under RIDF XII for rural roads with a corpus of Rs 4,000 crore during 2006-07.

Cheer for the cuppa

In continuation of the announcement in the last Budget to introduce a 15-year programme for massive re-plantation and rejuvenation of tea, Ministry of Commerce has proposed to set up a Special Purpose Tea Fund.

While the details are being worked out, to signal my support to the idea, I propose to make a levelised contribution every year to the Fund.

For 2006-07, the contribution is expected to be Rs 100 crore. When established, the Fund will benefit growers in the tea growing States including Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttaranchal.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 1, 2006)
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