ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rural Sector: Continued Neglect

The agricultural sector is stagnating. Foodgrains production has not increased during the last six years. Per capita availability of foodgrains is declining and is at the same level as it was 50 years back. It was expected that the budget would address this issue in a bold manner by, among other things, considerably increasing the expenditure on agriculture, rural development, watershed development, irrigation, etc. But expenditure on agriculture and cooperation constitutes only 0.8 per cent of the budgetary expenditure of 2007-08 and that on irrigation 0.13 per cent, although more than half of the cultivated area is still unirrigated. The combined expenditure on agriculture, animal husbandry, dairying, irrigation, cooperation and agricultural research and education forms only 1.6 per cent of the total expenditure.

The number of unemployed has risen from 10 million in 1999-2000 to 13 million in 2004-05. The number of agricultural workers is increasing by 48 lakh annually, adding to the unemployed labour force in the countryside. A very massive public works programme in the rural areas, mainly in watershed development through construction of rainwater harvesting structures could lead to creation of large-scale employment. The degraded land in the country is of the order of about 340 lakh hectare and its reclamation and regeneration can absorb almost all the unemployed and underemployed persons who then need not migrate to cities, provided enough funds are made available for such activities. The National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme could well be oriented towards these activities. But the allocation for these schemes of rural employment and land improvement is meagre.

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