Govt to set up Rs 1-trn agri infra fund, amend Essential Commodities Act

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a slew of announcements for the agriculture sector in the third tranche of her Covid-19 relief measures

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday announced setting up of a Rs 1-trillion agri infrastructure fund for farm-gate infrastructure. This fund would be used for setting up cold chains and post-harvest management infrastructure, she said while announcing the third tranche of her Covid-19 relief package.

Sitharaman also announced that the government would amend the six-and-a-half-decade-old Essential Commodities Act to deregulate food items, including cereals, edible oil, oilseeds, pulses, onion and potato. The amendment, besides deregulating production and sale of food products, will provide for no stock limit to be imposed on any produce.

A stock limit will be imposed only under very exceptional circumstances like national calamities, famine with a surge in prices. Also, no stock limit shall apply to processors or value chain participants, she said announcing the third tranche of economic relief package to deal with Covid-19 disruptions. Also, agriculture marketing reforms will be done to provide marketing choices to farmers.

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She also announced new funds for fisheries, dairy development, herbal plantation and livestock vaccination. She said Rs 15,000-crore Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund will be set up to support investment in dairy processing, value addition and cattle feed infrastructure.

To ensure 100 per cent vaccination of all livestock against foot and mouth disease (FMD), Rs 13,343 crore would be provided, she said. As much as Rs 10,000 crore would be provided for fishermen through the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). For promoting herbal cultivation, Rs 4,000-crore National Medicinal Plants Fund is to be started to help cover 1 million hectares under herbal cultivation.

The finance minister also announced a Rs 10,000-crore scheme for formalisation of micro food enterprises (MFE). The scheme will be launched to help 200,000 MFEs by adopting cluster-based approach — for example, makhana in Bihar, mango in Uttar Pradesh, saffron in Jammu & Kashmir, bamboo shoots in Northeast, chilli in Andhra Pradesh, tapioca in Tamil Nadu. This fund would help in reaching untapped export markets in view of improved health consciousness.

Also, Operation Greens would be extended from tomato, onion and potato to all fruit and vegetables by providing 50 per cent subsidy on transportation and storage of these commodities, she said. For beekeepers, a Rs 500-crore scheme was announced for infrastructure development and post-harvest facilities.

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