Indian Budget 2008-09- Full Text-Feb 29, 2008
54. I shall now return to the subject of agriculture.
55. I have already referred to the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission.
56. Notwithstanding some shortcomings, the growth of agricultural credit has been impressive and for this I have to thank our scheduled commercial banks and Regional Rural Banks. Between them, they account for about 75-79 per cent of agricultural credit disbursed during any year. We will exceed the target set for 2007-08. For 2008-09, I propose to set a target of Rs.280,000 crore.
57. Short-term crop loans will continue to be disbursed at 7 per cent per annum and I am making an initial provision of Rs.1,600 crore for interest subvention in 2008-09.
Investment in Agriculture
58. What ails agriculture, among other things, is the fall in investment. However, there seems to be a turnaround. Gross Capital Formation (GCF) in agriculture as a proportion of GDP in the agriculture sector has improved from a low of 10.2 per cent in 2003-04 to 12.5 per cent in 2006-07. This, however, needs to be raised to 16 per cent during the Eleventh Plan to achieve the target growth rate of 4 per cent.
59. Government is investing heavily in the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) and the Rainfed Area Development Programme and in the management and augmentation of water resources. Under AIBP, 24 major and medium irrigation projects and 753 minor irrigation schemes will be completed in this financial year, creating additional irrigation potential of 500,000 hectare. The outlay for 2007-08 was Rs.11,000 crore with a grant component of Rs.3,580 crore. These are being increased in 2008-09, and the estimated outlay is Rs.20,000 crore with a grant component of Rs.5,550 crore.
60. The Rainfed Area Development Programme has been finalised and will be implemented in 2008-09 with an allocation of Rs.348 crore. Priority will be given to those areas that have not been the beneficiaries of watershed development schemes.
61. The centrally sponsored scheme on micro irrigation launched in January 2006 has brought an area of 548,000 hectare under drip and sprinkler irrigation within two years. I propose to allocate Rs.500 crore for the scheme in 2008-09 with a target of covering another 400,000 hectare.
62. Agreements have been signed with the World Bank by the Governments of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka under the project to repair, renovate and restore water bodies. The three agreements are for a total sum of US$738 million that will benefit a command area of 900,000 hectare. I am confident that similar agreements will be signed soon between the World Bank and the Governments of Orissa, West Bengal and some other States.
Irrigation and Water Resources Finance Corporation
63. While these ongoing programmes will raise the level of investment in agriculture, I think that we need an ambitious scheme of a much larger proportion. Government is of the view that massive investments are required to be made in irrigation projects. Recently, Government has approved 14 projects that satisfy certain criteria as national projects and three of them alone would require Rs.7,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period. Having regard to the magnitude of the challenge, I propose to establish the Irrigation and Water Resources Finance Corporation (IWRFC) with an initial capital of Rs.100 crore contributed by the Central Government. State Governments and other financial institutions will be invited to contribute to the equity. It is our intention to mobilise the very large resources that will be required to fund major and medium irrigation projects. I hope to be able to incorporate IWRFC as a company before March 31, 2008.
National Horticulture Mission
64. The National Horticulture Mission (NHM) now covers 340 districts in 18 States and two Union Territories. An area of 276,000 hectare has been brought under horticulture crops and an area of 56,000 hectare of old plantations has been rejuvenated. Special thrust is being given to the revival of crops such as coconut, cashew and pepper. NHM will be provided Rs.1,100 crore in 2008-09.
65. 500 soil testing laboratories will be set up in the public and private sectors during the Eleventh Plan period with Government assistance of Rs.30 lakh per laboratory. In addition, I propose to make a one-time allocation of Rs.75 crore to the Ministry of Agriculture in order to provide one fully-fitted mobile soil testing laboratory each to 250 districts of the country before March 2009.
66. The Special Purpose Tea Fund set up last year for re-plantation and rejuvenation will be provided Rs.40 crore in 2008-09. I propose to provide funds for similar support to other plantation crops such as cardamom (Rs.10.68 crore), rubber (Rs.19.41 crore) and coffee (Rs.18 crore). A crop insurance scheme for tea, rubber, tobacco, chilli, ginger, turmeric, pepper and cardamom will be introduced next year.
67. In order to promote research on matters concerning the plantation sector, I propose to make a one-time grant of Rs.5 crore to the Centre for Development Studies, Tiruvananthapuram. The Tocklai Experimental Station at Jorhat of the Tea Research Association will celebrate its centenary in 2010. It is in the process of upgrading its facilities and expanding its activities to cover other North Eastern States, North Bengal and Darjeeling. I propose to make a special centenary grant of Rs.20 crore to the Tea Research Association.
68. The National Plant Protection Training Institute at Hyderabad will be converted and upgraded into an autonomous National Institute of Plant Health Management with budgetary support of Rs.29.4 crore.
69. Pending a decision on an alternative crop insurance scheme that is acceptable to the farmers as well as viable to the insurer, the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS) will be continued in its present form for Kharif and Rabi 2008-09. I propose to provide Rs.644 crore for the scheme.
70. In addition, the Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme that is being implemented as a pilot scheme in selected areas of five States will be continued. I intend to provide Rs.50 crore for this purpose in 2008-09.
71. Government will continue to provide fertilisers to farmers at subsidized prices. Government is examining proposals to move to a nutrient based subsidy regime and alternative methods of delivering the subsidy.
Cooperative Credit Structure
72. The Prof. Vaidyanathan Committee's report on reviving the short-term cooperative credit structure is under implementation in 17 States. So far, a sum of Rs.1,185 crore has been released by the Central Government to four States. I am happy to report that the Central Government and the State Governments have reached an agreement on the content of the package to implement the Prof. Vaidyanathan Committee's report on reviving the long-term cooperative credit structure. The cost of the package is estimated at Rs.3,074 crore, of which the Central Government's share will be Rs.2,642 crore or 86 per cent of the total burden.
Debt Waiver and Debt Relief
73. Sir, while I am confident that the schemes and measures that I have listed above will give a boost to the agriculture sector, the question that still looms large is what we should do about the indebtedness of farmers. Honourable members will recall that Government had appointed a Committee under Dr. R. Radhakrishna to examine all aspects of agricultural indebtedness. The Committee has since submitted its report and it is in the public domain. The Committee had made a number of recommendations but stopped short of recommending waiver of agricultural loans. However, Government is conscious of the dimensions of the problem and is sensitive to the difficulties of the farming community, especially the small and marginal farmers. Having carefully weighed the pros and cons of debt waiver and having taken into account the resource position, I place before this House a scheme of debt waiver and debt relief for farmers:
(i) All agricultural loans disbursed by scheduled commercial banks, regional rural banks and cooperative credit institutions up to March 31, 2007 and overdue as on December 31, 2007 will be covered under the scheme.
(ii) For marginal farmers (i.e., holding upto 1 hectare) and small farmers (1-2 hectare), there will be a complete waiver of all loans that were overdue on December 31, 2007 and which remained unpaid until February 29, 2008. In respect of other farmers, there will be a one time settlement (OTS) scheme for all loans that were overdue on December 31, 2007 and which remained unpaid until February 29, 2008. Under the OTS, a rebate of 25 per cent will be given against payment of the balance of 75 per cent.
(iii) Agricultural loans were restructured and rescheduled by banks in 2004 and 2006 through special packages. These rescheduled loans, and other loans rescheduled in the normal course as per RBI guidelines, will also be eligible either for a waiver or an OTS on the same pattern.
(iv) The implementation of the debt waiver and debt relief scheme will be completed by June 30, 2008. Upon being granted debt waiver or signing an agreement for debt relief under the OTS, the farmer would be entitled to fresh agricultural loans from the banks in accordance with normal rules.
(v) Government estimates that about three crore small and marginal farmers and about one crore other farmers will benefit from the scheme. The total value of overdue loans being waived is estimated at Rs.50,000 crore and the OTS relief on the overdue loans is estimated at Rs.10,000 crore.
I appeal to Honourable Members - as well as to the people of India - to give their unqualified support to the scheme and help Government implement this momentous decision.