FM unveils pro-farmer Budget

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New Delhi, Feb 29 (UNI) Finance Minister P Chidambaram today unveiled a pro-farmer budget, with a slew of proposals ranging from the whopping Rs 20,000 crore Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) to a Rs 50 crore pilot project for Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme.

Under the the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) at a cost of Rs 20,000 crore with a grant component of Rs 5,550 crore, 24 major and medium irrigation projects and 753 minor irrigation schemes will be completed in this financial year.

The Government is investing heavily in the AIBP and the Rainfed Area Development Programme and in the management and augmentation of water resources, Mr Chidambaram said.

Priority will be given to areas that have not been the beneficiaries of watershed development scheme under the Rainfed Area Development Programme, finalised with an outlay of Rs 348 crore.

The Minister announced allocation of Rs 500 crore for the centrally sponsored scheme on micro irrigation which will cover 400,000 hectares under drip and sprinkler irrigation.

Simultaneously, Mr Chidambaram announced Rs 644 crore for the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS) which will continue in its present form for kharif and rabi.

A sum of Rs 50 crore will be allocated to Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme being implemented as a pilot scheme in selected areas of five states. Further, the Government will continue to provide fertilisers to farmers at subsidised rates. It is examining proposals to move to a nutrient based subsidy regime and alternative methods of delivering the subsidy.

The Special Purpose Tea Fund, set up last year for re-plantation and rejuvenation, will receive Rs 40 crore. Similar funds will be given to support other plantation crops such as cardamom with an outlay of Rs 10.68 crore, rubber with Rs 19.41 crore and coffee with Rs 18 crore.

A fully-fitted mobile soil testing laboratory will be set up in each to 250 districts of the country before March 2009. This will be done under a one-time allotment of Rs 75 crore given to the Ministry of Agriculture to provide the mobile soil testing laboratories.

In addition, 500 soil testing laboratories will be set up in the public private sectors during the 11th Plan with Government's assistance of Rs 13 lakh per laboratory.

Special thrust will be given to the revival of crops such as coconut, cashew and pepper under the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) with an outlay of Rs 1,100 crore. NHM now covers 340 districts in 18 states and two union territories. An area of 2,76,000 hectares has been brought under horticulture crops and 56,000 hectares of old plantations has been rejuvenated.

Agriculture related items also got a cut in excise duty reflecting buoyancy in tax revenues. In order to reduce the cost of manufacture of cattle and poultry feeds, duty on vitamin premixes and mineral mixtures has been reduced from 30 to 20 per cent, on Phosphoric acid from 7.5 to 5 per cent and on bactofuges from 7.5 per cent to zero. This will increase the shelf life of milk and benefit the dairy industry.

To support domestic fertiliser production, customs duty on crude and unrefined sulphur was cut from five to two per cent.

UNI SD MS AS1711

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