Gehlot red flags cuts in Ministry of Agriculture and MGNREGA budgets

By Archana Sharma

Jaipur, Feb 5 (IANS): The Union Budget 2023-24 has made a big cut in the allocation to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, which is considered to be the livelihood lifeline for the poorest of the poor.

At the same time, the Budget has also reduced by a third the funds for the scholarship scheme for children belonging to the minority communities. These issues, as well as a national status not being accorded to the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP), are being highlighted by the Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot.

The budgets of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Jal Jeevan Mission and Bharat Swachh Mission, however, have been increased as compared to last year. With this increase, Rajasthan will get more funds.

The biggest impact, however, will be seen on the labourers linked to MGNREGA, especially in the rural areas.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has reduced the budget of MGNREGA by about Rs 30,000 crore as compared to the last time. Due to this reduction, the share of Rajasthan is also expected to come down.

If this happens, there will be a direct impact on about 1.45 crore rural labourers of Rajasthan associated with this scheme.

In the last budget of the Central government, the size of this scheme was Rs 73,000 crore. Later, seeing the need, the revised estimate was increased by the Centre to Rs 89,400 crore. This time the size has been reduced to only Rs 60,000 crore.

For MGNREGA, the states get 75 per cent of the funds from the Centre. Last year, keeping in view the budget provisions of the Centre, the state government had made a provision of Rs 3906 crore in its own budget, estimating the share to be received from the Centre at Rs 2970 crore.

Reacting to the budget announcement, Chief Minister Gehlot termed it as a disappointment for his state. He said the MGNREGA cut proves the Budget is against the poor, especially the landless farmers.

A number of "fake announcements" related to agriculture and farmers' welfare have been made in this budget, Gehlot said, but the actual allocation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is about 6 per cent (around Rs 7,500 crore) lower than what it got last year. Similarly, there has been a significant reduction of 15 per cent (approximately Rs 23,000 crore) in urea subsidy, compared to last year.

"People of the state are disappointed because the central government has not accepted our demand for a national status to the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project, which is important for the development of the state," Gehlot said. "Only headline-making jumlas have been used in the budget," he added.

Meanwhile, in the budget presented in Parliament on Wednesday, two announcements related to millets and animal dung can turn around the fortunes of Rajasthan, feel experts.

It has been announced to make India a global hub in coarse grain production and to open 10,000 cow dung collection centres for organic fertilizers. Finance Minister Sitharaman has named millet as Shri Anna (Food of God).

Rajasthan ranks No. 1 in the country in millet production. Coarse grains like millet, barley, jowar, maize are being grown here traditionally for centuries. About 5.50 crore people are directly engaged in agriculture in Rajasthan. Experts say if the state government works seriously on these announcements, then the fate of 5.50 crore people out of the 7.50 crore living in Rajasthan can change.

Independent experts have hailed the Budget announcements on millets, include making the country a global hub for millet production, opening of a research institute in the country, especially for bajra, 50 per cent discount on fertilisers for the cultivation of coarse grains, setting up of 10,000 Bio Input Resource Centres (for cow dung collection) to prepare organic manure for coarse grain production, and the creation of a Rs 20 lakh crore fund to enable farmers to get loans directly.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Rajasthan is number one in the country. Rajasthan is followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana for annual production of 1939 and 1019 tonnes. In such a situation, due to the implementation of a special plan related to the marketing of millets, millet can reach the food plates of the world after coming out of the fields of Rajasthan.

Through the 10,000 centres to be opened across the country for making organic manure, people will now be able to earn even from cow dung. Rajasthan comes second in animal husbandry after UP. 56.8 million animals are reared here. In such a situation, experts believe that more organic fertilizer centres will be established in Rajasthan as compared to other states. This will create new employment opportunities.

In the Budget, Finance Minister Sitharaman has said that there are about 700 crore (seven billion) people in the world and the biggest problem facing them is fighting hunger. In such a situation, India's coarse grains, which can be grown with less water and less land, can mitigate global hunger. By increasing the production of these crops, India can move from being the No. 5 economy to becoming the No. 1 in the world.



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