New Delhi: At a time when rural distress and protests by farmers are making headlines, the central government will send 700 bureaucrats to more than 45,000 villages to not only ensure that the masses have access to social welfare schemes but also showcase alternative livelihood models to women and farmers.

As part of the second phase of the Gram Swarajya Abhiyan, other than focusing on 100% saturation of seven social welfare schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, emphasis will also be laid on bettering livelihood, education, skills and agriculture.

The cabinet secretary has already held a meeting with stakeholders concerned on the subject last week, at least two government officials said.

“Farmers and women will be two areas of focus. The 117 aspirational districts are largely poor regions and have many challenges and it will help to have bureaucrats with focused plans to help build capacity and showcase alternative livelihood options," a government official who attended the meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary last week said, requesting anonymity.

“Some 700 bureaucrats will go to villages as part of the plan," said the official. This will also send a message that the Union government is serious about villages, women and farmers, the official cited above said.

“Some of the challenges of rural distress will be addressed" through diversification of livelihood, higher public investment and bank loans to target groups, said Amarjeet Sinha, secretary in the ministry of rural development.

Sinha has already written to the chief secretaries of states where these 45,000 villages with more than 1,000 population each are located, requesting them to help the central government officers in saturating all the schemes.

Sinha said the aspirational districts are in the poor regions of the country and his ministry will be happy “if we are able to make a transformation there".

The rural development ministry will establish around 5,000 grameen haats or village markets “where producers can come and command a better price", he said. “We are also initiating capacity building programmes in the panchayats under the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan scheme," he added.

The first official said several other central government departments may also send senior officers to village and block levels to understand the issues at the grassroots.

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