NEW DELHI: The government is readying a strategy to focus on infrastructure, agriculture and restoring the health of the banking system as well as specific measures to ease stress in the rural economy as part of the 2016-17 Budget.
According to the preliminary blueprint that has emerged during Budget discussions, the government plans to focus on these crucial areas to fire up growth and tackle the growing unease in the farm economy.
“There will be more attention on irrigation and agriculture. We are working out the numbers. We will have to address the problems in the rural economy which has borne the brunt of two consecutive droughts,” said a senior official who did not wish to be identified. “This is a very crucial Budget for the government,” he said, highlighting the need to take effective measures to revive vital sectors and overall growth.
The official also said that the infrastructure sector will see greater attention as the government is keen to step up investment despite a challenging fiscal situation. The government has already allocated Rs 5,300 crore to support micro-irrigation, watershed development and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana and has urged states to chip in substantially in this vital sector. Sources say this effort will be stepped up in the current Budget.
The rural economy, a key driver of demand and a support for the broader economy, has taken a knock from the two back-to-back seasons of patchy monsoon rains. The segment drives demand for everything from motorcycles to tractors, televisions and refrigerators.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has already signalled the government’s support by backing calls for raising investment in the crucial farm sector and leveraging technology to fire up growth.
“There have been demands that micro-irrigation be given infrastructure lending status. We are looking at several options to step up irrigation,” said the official, adding that reviving the farm sector was a top priority. Growth in the sector slowed down to 2.2% in the September quarter compared to a 2.1% expansion in the preceding quarter.
The next focus area would be infrastructure, where investment in 2015-16 was estimated to have gone up by Rs 70,000 crore, including funds from the Centre and state-run undertakings. Highways and roads have proved to be a success area and in the absence of private investment, indications are that the sector will receive special attention, including unveiling of some innovative financing schemes.
The health of the banking sector has been a sources of worry. The government has taken several measures, including pumping in Rs 70,000 crore to recapitalise state-run banks. Sources said there is a view within the government that more needs to be done to secure the health of the crucial sector.
Apart from the focus on crucial sectors, Jaitley’s Budget team is also working on the big numbers of the financial document, keeping in view the government’s commitment to meet the fiscal deficit target of 3.9% of the gross domestic product for the current fiscal year. Tepid revenues from stake sales in state-run firms and the possibility of shortfall in direct tax revenues have made the government’s job tougher but officials said the Budget is expected to have a clear statement on the road ahead.