Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday unveiled the third tranche of stimulus as part of the Rs 20 lakh crore fiscal and monetary package, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week to revive the economy, amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said the third set of measures focuses on agriculture, allied sectors and fisheries.

“I will be announcing 11 measures for agricultural activities and allied sectors,” Sitharaman said. “Eight of these are related to government allocating money to strengthen capacities, undertaking activities, ramping up storage, while the remaining three focus on governance and administrative response.”

Agricultural sector

Sitharaman announced that a financing facility of Rs 1 lakh crore will be provided for funding agriculture infrastructure projects at farm-gate and aggregation points. The finance minister said that lack of adequate cold chain and post-harvest management infrastructure in the vicinity of farm-gate is causing gaps in value chains. She said there has not been much focus on long-term agricultural infrastructure.

Sitharaman said that funds transfer of Rs 18,700 crore has been made during the last two months under the PM-Kisan scheme. The finance minister added that claims worth Rs 6,400 crore have been released under the PM Fasal Bima Yojana during the same time period. “Minimum Support Price purchases of more than Rs 74,300 crore were made during lockdown,” she said.

The Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus, on March 25. The lockdown has been extended thrice and will continue past May 17 with certain relaxations, the prime minister had said on May 11.

Sitharaman announced an allotment of Rs 4,000 crore for promotion of herbal cultivation. The move aims to cover 10 lakh hectares under herbal cultivation by 2022, and seeks to build a corridor of medicinal plants along the Ganga River.

The finance minister admitted that farmers have not been able to sell their produce in the market due to disruption of supply chains. She said the government will provide 50% subsidy on transportation from surplus to deficient markets, and a similar subsidy on storage. The scheme will be run for six months on a pilot basis, following which it might be extended and expanded.

The scheme, called Operation Green, so far covered only sale of tomatoes, onion and potatoes. However, it will now be expanded to include all fruits and vegetables. Sitharaman said that the Centre expects that the expansion of the scheme will ensure better price realisation to farmers, reduced wastage and affordability of products to the end consumer.

“A central law will be formulated to provide adequate choice to farmers to sell produce at an attractive price,” the minister announced.

Sitharaman said that the Centre will amend the Essential Commodities Act to enable better price realisation for farmers. The amendments will deregulate the prices of cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potato. The amendments will do away with imposing stock limits, except during natural calamities or famine.

“A facilitative legal framework will be created to enable farmers for engaging with processors, aggregators, large retailers,exporters in a fair and transparent manner,” Sitharaman said.

Sectors allied to agriculture

The finance minister announced a scheme to launch two lakh Micro Food Enterprises, in order to realise Modi’s “vocal for local with global outreach” vision. The scheme will support existing Micro Food Enterprises, farmer producer organisations, self-help groups and cooperatives. A cluster-based approach will be used to operate the scheme.

Sitharaman said the government has launched the National Animal Disease Control Programme with an outlay of Rs 13,343 crore, to ensure 100% vaccination of cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat and pig population in India. So far, 1.5 crore cows and buffaloes have been tagged and vaccinated out of a total of 53 crore animals.

Sitharaman also announced an Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund worth Rs. 15,000 crore to support private sector investment in dairy processing. She said incentives will be provided for establishing plants for export of niche products.

Sitharaman said the Centre will bring in reforms in the agricultural marketing sector to provide marketing choices to farmers. The finance minister said that at present, farmers are bound to sell their produce only to licencees in Agricultural Produce Market Committees, which results in hindrances in free flow of produce and fragments markets and the supply chain. It also results in lower prices for farmers.

The finance minister announced a scheme worth Rs 500 crore for infrastructural development related to beekeeping. The scheme aims to improve infrastructure for integrated beekeeping development centres, collection, marketing and storage centres and post-harvest and value addition facilities, she said. The scheme will help improve the livelihoods of two lakh beekeepers.

Fisheries sector

For integrated development of marine and inland fisheries, the Centre will launch the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, Sitharaman said. Over Rs 20,000 crore will be allocated for this scheme. The scheme will help provide employment to over 55 lakh persons and double exports of these products to Rs 1 lakh crore, she claimed.

The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 81,970 on Friday morning and the toll went up to 2,649, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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