It is customary for any incumbent government that presents an interim Budget before general elections to announce populist proposals to attract voter attention. From that perspective, Interim Budget 2024 is different. No tax cuts, no freebies, no subsidies.

In some way it reflects the confidence of the political party running the government that it would return to power to present a full Budget in the months ahead.

That confidence perhaps emanates from the several welfare measures initiated in recent years.

The Budget has targeted four groups of people — women, youth, farmers and the poor. Come to think of it, these are not four distinct or separate groups that are mutually exclusive, nor are they collectively exhaustive. There is a lot of overlap. For example, a poor person may be a youth engaged in farming and that person may be a woman.

The Finance Minister did refer to the importance of each one the four groups and highlighted what the present government has done for each of them. Ideally, the single-minded targeted pursuit should have been ‘the poor’ and efforts to lift the maximum number of the poor out of poverty.

Be that as it may, the Budget has laid out a long list of pious intentions, but it is short on strategy. It is critical that action follows. We have to believe that the intentions would be converted into action supported by budgetary outlays in the next full Budget.

In the Finance Minister’s speech, agriculture related highlights covered a slew of policy measures and activities for the benefit of the farming sector. For example: 40 million farmers benefiting from PM Fasal Bima Yojana (crop insurance scheme); and rapid integration of mandis (agri marketing yards) with e-NAM (electronically driven National Agricultural Market).

Improve supply chain

Post-harvest losses in crops including perishables are rather high in our country. These losses — avoidable but inflicted — are often invisible and unaccounted for. Any reduction in such losses is sure to boost the overall agri-economy, benefit growers and other stakeholders. To this end, the Finance Minister has assured that the government would promote both public and private investments that would help improve the supply chain and capture cost efficiency.

A boost to public expenditure for building agri-infrastructure across the country is critical. In the last Budget, the Finance Minister had proposed creation of an Agriculture Infrastructure Development Fund by levying a cess on specified imports. This fund has to be deployed purposefully. We need a progress card of funds collected and new infra created. Increase in public investment in agri-infra is sure to crowd-in private investment.

Our country has over 125 million milch animals in cows and buffaloes. Although the world’s largest producer of milk, per animal milk yield is rather low — just half of the global average of 2,500 litres a year. More often than not, the milch animals are under-nourished which reduces milk yield. There is an urgent need for genetic enhancement and for improvement in animal health through more nutritious feed.

Nano-urea was introduced last year, but its efficacy is yet to be scientifically confirmed through empirical evidence. Yet, the Finance Minister talked about introducing nano-DAP (di-ammonium phosphate). Without doubt nano-fertilizers are economical, but their efficacy is yet to be proven. Some amount of caution is necessary before going ahead on a full scale.

Concerned over large-scale import of vegetable oils (about 14-15 million tonnes worth $12-13 billion per annum), the Finance Minister once again reiterated that there would soon be a strategy for moving towards self-sufficiency (Aatmanirbhar) in oilseeds and oils.

This talk of self-sufficiency in vegetable oils has been doing the rounds for over five years now, yet concrete action backed by strategy and investment is lacking. There are many policy options available for boosting domestic production.

The writer is a senior journalist and policy commentator. Views are personal