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BJP keen to protect its pro-farmer image

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-04-2017 Sayantan Bera

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) keenness to maintain a pro-farmer image came to the fore when finance minister Arun Jaitley promptly denied that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had any plans to impose tax on agriculture incomes.

Conscious of its strategy in rural areas, the BJP leadership has taken several steps, both nationally and in BJP-ruled states, to maintain its pro-farmer image.

The suggestion to tax agricultural income was part of the vision document circulated by the Niti Aayog to the chief ministers on Sunday. However, a day later, the government clearly stated that while there was no plan to impose a tax, as per Constitutional allocation of powers, the Central government has no jurisdiction to impose tax on farm incomes.

“I have read the paragraph in Niti Aayog report titled ‘Income Tax on agriculture income’. To obviate any confusion on the subject, I categorically state that the central government has no plan to impose any tax on agriculture income,” the statement quoted Jaitley as saying.

The Narendra Modi-led government’s tenure at the Centre began with a drought in 2014 followed by another the next year. In response, the government launched a new crop insurance scheme in 2016, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, to risk-proof India’s 140 million farmers. The government also raised allocations for irrigation schemes by creating a dedicated long-term fund to fast-track pending irrigation projects and emphasised on micro-irrigation to achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of achieving “per drop more crop”.

Besides raising funds for irrigation and insurance, the Centre has also set an ambitious target of doubling farm incomes by 2022 and set up a committee to prepare a road map. The government has said it will raise incomes by reducing costs of cultivation, raising productivity and facilitating better access to markets.

As a way to help farmers get better prices for their produce and connect them to a wide range of markets, the government launched an electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM) platform last year, and is currently urging states to liberalize agriculture marketing laws.

A draft model Act on land leasing formulated by the Centre, which allows tenant farmers to access credit and insurance, has already been adopted by states like Madhya Pradesh.

Beyond these policy measures, the newly-elected BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has waived loans of small and marginal farmers that will cost the state over Rs36,000 crore, following up on the Prime Minister’s promise before the elections.

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