Budget 2021: The government must maintain the allocation for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) at the current increased level of Rs 1 lakh crore for the next fiscal year, industry body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said in its Pre-Budget Memorandum 2021-22. The demand for work under the MNREGA has continued to remain significantly higher than the corresponding periods in 2019. In October 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand was 88 per cent higher than in October 2019, and there was an unmet demand of around 8 million households. This means that 24 million demanded work, but only 16 million got the same under the rural employment guarantee scheme.
According to CII, states have exhausted funds and are reporting a shortfall of over Rs 1300 crores in unpaid wages. Investment in agri-infrastructure such as cold chain, warehousing, logistics, and irrigation also needs to be increased as these would improve rural connectivity and demand in the rural area. The launch of the Rs 100,000 crore Agriculture Infrastructure Fund for spending on post-harvest infrastructure over four years is significant and must be supported by Budget 2021. The alllocation in the budget could be raised under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), to expedite the construction of rural roads and improving the connectivity of villages with rural roads as well as mandis.
The industry body calls for a need to bring innovations in marketing structure for better price realization to the farmers. For this, there is a need to build further and expand on the National Agriculture Market Portal (e-NAM) model of market integration. The E-NAM handling share must go up from 175 commodities at present, with higher participation from new areas such as horticulture. The diversification of agriculture from traditional crop cultivation to horticulture, livestock, dairy would need to be worked out to improve income opportunities in rural areas.