The Budget for 2020-21 was presented at one of the most difficult times, when the growth of our economy has experienced significant slowdown. The economic growth projections suggest a tepid growth of 5 per cent for the current fiscal year, which would be the lowest in the last 11 years. A major growth-constraining factor has been the weakening demand scenario in the country, especially in the rural sector. Low income growth, agrarian distress and low employment creation have been primarily responsible for this lower demand generation from the rural sector.

Hence, it is heartening to note that the government has presented an inclusive Budget that has given strong focus on the agriculture, rural and social sector development and has attempted to address the pain areas adequately. This has been done by expanding the government spend. The fiscal deficit target has been relaxed by 0.5per cent to 3.8 per cent in the current year, and to 3.5 per cent for the next fiscal year.

In addition to reiterating the government’s commitment towards doubling farmers’ income by 2022, a number of measures have been announced for farmers to make farming competitive and sustainable.

The government has encouraged States to implement model laws including on agricultural land-leasing, marketing and contract farming, which is a welcome move as it will have a positive impact productivity and profitability of the farmers. The government has also decided to provide funding for setting up warehousing at the block/taluk level. This will reduce food spoilage, which is a major problem of the sector. It will also help in better integration into food processing chain and therefore will help in better price realisation of crops. The decision to set up a ‘Kisan Rail’ for transportation of perishables items, including milk, meat and fish, will also have a similar impact.

On the sustainability front, the government has decided to extend the PM-KUSUM scheme allowing 20 lakh farmers set up stand-alone solar pumps, while another 15 lakh farmers will be provided help to solarise their grid-connected pump sets. Farmers will also be allowed to set up solar units on barren/fallow lands and supply power to grids. This will help in providing uninterrupted power supply to farmers while reducing carbon footprint of agriculture. This will also check overexploitation of groundwater.

Aspirational India

Besides agriculture and rural development, the social sector has received due attention under the theme ‘Aspirational India’, which includes healthcare, education and skill development. This is critical if we want to leverage the demographic dividend and become a well-equipped and healthy India. The education sector has been allocated ₹99,300 crore, while ₹3,000 crore has been allocated for skill development. The government will be taking steps to infuse more capital into the sector through external commercial borrowing and FDI, which is a positive step.

The vision to make India a preferred destination for higher education under the ‘study in India’ initiative is also a well-thought out move. This will help in increasing India’s international standing in the higher education arena and will also help in developing the country’s higher education institutions as per international standards.

We have a shortage of skilled manpower in almost every area, including in critical areas such as medicine. Hence, the idea of setting up medical colleges in existing district hospitals is a step in the right direction. Large hospitals with sufficient capacity will also be encouraged to offer resident doctors DNB/FNB courses. These will help in overcoming the lack of healthcare professionals. The courses to be designed by the Ministries of Health and Skill Development for improving skillsets of teachers, nurses, para-medical staff and care-givers will increasing their employability both in India and abroad.

The government’s efforts to expand the scope of healthcare services in the country by setting up hospitals in the aspirational districts is commendable. This can create job opportunities for youth. Overall, the Budget has provided adequate measures to boost the sentiment of the rural masses.

The writer is President, FICCI