Pew Research Center, using World Bank data, has estimated that the number of poor in India (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity) has more than doubled from 60 million to 134 million in just a year because the pandemic-induced recession. This means India is back in a situation to be called a “country of mass poverty” after 45 years.
Recently, the Union Budget(2021-22) has announced to provide additional funds for micro-irrigation projects and improving the efficiency of irrigation in the country. This has brought back the spotlight on irrigation schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), which is one of the premier irrigation schemes of the country. Out of 141 million hectares of net sown area in the country, 45% of the area is covered under irrigation. A lot of farmers are dependent upon rainfall for irrigating their lands which makes them vulnerable to crop failure and other risks. In such a situation, government-sponsored schemes play a key role in ensuring a steady flow of income to the farmers. Irrigation schemes form an important part of such efforts leading to productivity enhancement and increased farm income.
In recent times, with the ongoing farmers’ agitation near the Delhi-Haryana border, agriculture as an issue has again captured the limelight. Various issues related to farmers have cropped up. The Union Government has dedicated a significant part of the 2021 Budget towards providing agricultural credit to the farmers. As the country is facing a number of problems in agriculture of which financing the agricultural needs tends to be a major issue, agricultural credit has become an important subject now to discuss and to pay attention to.
The year 2020 saw an unprecedented return of migrant workers to rural India during the lockdown. This has increased the pressure on the already stressed rural employment scheme MGNREGS. However, 2020-21 budget allocation for MGNREGS is inadequate to meet the demand, as it is much lower than the revised estimates of FY21.
The pandemic-led health and socio-economic crisis have hit women and girls in a disproportionate fashion, leading to increased feminisation of poverty, domestic work, work burden as well as a spike in domestic violence. At the same time, it has also caused a boost in the feminisation of agriculture, making rural women play a critical role in providing household income. This presents an unmissable opportunity for the economic empowerment of women, which has the potential to remove all structural barriers hampering gender equality within India.
The recent occurrence of coronavirus pandemic has brought the issue of social security in India at the forefront. Large scale movement of migrant workers from the various cities of India was a great lesson for all the stakeholders. It made people realise the need for social security for all the members in the society and thus, there needs to be a great deal of discussion on this issue at all the levels.
Historically, agriculture has undergone a series of revolutions that have driven efficiency, yield and profitability to levels that were previously unreachable. The market estimates suggest that the next decade would witness a “digital agricultural revolution” that would help meet the needs of the agricultural sector. With the majority of the Indian population employed under the sector, efforts need to be put forth in addressing barriers that are currently hindering the adoption of digital technologies within this sector.
The mass exodus of migrant workers to their native villages following the temporary closing down of industries in urban areas to curb the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the demand for employment in Rural India. This situation creates a new opportunity to improve the rural economy by employing such population in infrastructure development and other vital government projects like waste management and improving access to water in rural India. To utilise this opportunity, the government had launched Gram Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan in select states. However, the new initiative has diluted the role of MGNREGS, another similar but comprehensive rural employment generation scheme.
Recently, the Central government decided to suspend the Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) scheme for two years in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. It sought to garner around 7,900 crores by suspending the scheme for the fight against the corona crisis. Following this, few state governments decided to suspend their MLALAD schemes too. This decision attracted diverse commentary by media and civil society.