Interim Budget: As India braces for the 2024 interim budget, the spotlight on rural jobs and schemes becomes even more critical, given the significant population dependent on agriculture and allied activities. In the purview of Lok Sabha elections this year, there is optimism that initiatives like ‘Make in India,’ the expansion of Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes, and targeted agriculture-related subsidies and incentives could feature prominently in the Budget, catering to the rural population and generating employment.
“Subsidies, as a percentage of budgetary outlay, are likely to be about 7 percent during FY 2023-24, down from 8 percent in FY 2022-23. This will help bringing down the fiscal deficit as the government consolidates its spending. However, lower subsidies can put pressure on rural demand amidst challenges such as lower agriculture output. The government is expected to divert savings from subsidies towards spending that can support sustainable growth in income amongst rural households, boosting the rural economy’s disposable income. One of the ways could be higher spending on building rural infrastructure or providing incentives that improve cash flow,” Deloitte analysts said in a book on Budget expectations.
A closer look at current challenges
In the rural job market, persistent challenges include underemployment and limited opportunities for skill development. The seasonal nature of agricultural work exacerbates this issue, leaving many rural workers unemployed for a substantial part of the year.
Another key issue is inadequate rural infrastructure. The limited access to essential services like roads, electricity, and healthcare and wide digital divide hamper rural communities’ access to modern technology and crucial information.
Insufficient social security measures make rural workers vulnerable to economic shocks, necessitating urgent attention to issues like health insurance and pension schemes. The agrarian crisis, marked by farmer suicides and mounting debts, demands immediate intervention and sustainable agricultural practices.
An expected approach
To address the persisting challenges, a comprehensive approach is essential, incorporating various dimensions of rural development.
Tailored skill development programs can enhance the employability of rural youth, fostering economic growth and self-sufficiency. Aligning these programs with local needs ensures relevance to the job market.
Allocating funds for rural infrastructure development remains crucial to bridge the urban-rural divide. Improved roads, reliable electricity, and enhanced healthcare facilities significantly contribute to rural progress.
Initiatives promoting digital literacy and increased connectivity can empower rural communities. Leveraging technology for agricultural practices and market access can transform the livelihoods of rural residents.
Implementing sustainable agricultural practices and supporting farmers through subsidies and fair pricing mechanisms are critical. Addressing the root causes of agrarian distress is essential for the overall well-being of rural communities.
Agriculture-related subsidies and special incentives could also be on the charts, aiming to alleviate the agrarian crisis and enhance farmers’ income. Sops tailored to sustainable practices and technological adoption in agriculture might feature prominently, aligning with the broader goal of rural development.
To support the sector, the government has already made massive strides through its policies, schemes, and initiatives. In addition to existing schemes, such as PM Matsya Sampada Yojana, the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, and Krishi UDAN 2.0, the government recently announced the development of a Digital Public infrastructure for agriculture to enable farmer-centric solutions. It also announced an Agriculture Accelerator Fund to encourage agri-start-ups in rural areas and the Atmanirbhar Clean Plant Programme to boost the availability of quality planting material.
“The government needs additional measures to increase digital adoption; strengthen the food processing value chain, post harvest infrastructure, market linkages, and regulations around land pooling; and ensure ease of doing business and investment support,” the Deloitte report said.
“The government may take this opportunity to announce certain exemptions and extend some of the benefits. Although this is an interim budget and the actual implementation can happen only when the finance bill gets passed post the full budget announcement after the new regime takes power, the government may indicate its intentions w.r.t the relief measures in the interim budget,” said Anand Rathi’s Sujan Hajra.