New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday revamped its flagship programme providing special socio-economic infrastructure for religious minorities.

A meeting of the cabinet committee of economic affairs (CCEA) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi liberalized the norms to extend the scope of the existing multi-sectoral development programme targeting minorities and renamed it as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK).

Consequently, the scheme would extend to 308 districts compared to 196 districts at present and the spending will be Rs1,320 crore and Rs1,452 crore in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively.

The move is significant as it comes ahead of key state elections and in the run-up to the general election due in 2019. It will help buttress the claims of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance with its professed ideology of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas" (development for all).

The criteria for identification of minority concentrated towns and clusters of villages have been rationalized under the new programme. Earlier only those towns which were found backward in terms of basic amenities and socio-economic parameters were taken up as minority concentrated towns. Now, either criteria would suffice for the towns to avail of the benefits of the PMJVK programme.

For clusters of villages, the concentration of minority community population criteria has also been reduced to 25% from mandated 50%.

“These rationalization of criteria would facilitate the inclusive growth of communities and social harmony," the government said in a statement.

The programme now mandates that 80% of the resources under the PMJVK be spent on projects relating to education, health and skill development while 33-40% of resources under the PMJVK would be earmarked for women-centred projects.

Analysts say that while such initiatives are desirable, their merit is lost when announced so close to elections.

“It is a good step. It is a desirable initiative which is needed. However, the timing of the announcement is very close to elections. The program deserves better attention on its own merit which elections may diffuse. The scheme needs to be viewed impartially," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

The cabinet also moved an ordinance —to be cleared by the President —to set up commercial courts to resolve small business disputes that will help India improve its ranking in the World Bank ease of doing business.

In another CCEA decision to ease the burden on sugar mills unable to pay cane growers due to a steep fall in wholesale prices, the government announced a Rs5.5 subsidy per quintal of cane crushed by mills. The assistance will be paid directly to farmers’ accounts and help mills offset the cost of cane procured from farmers, an official statement said.

The subsidy scheme will cost the government Rs1,540 crore. Currently cane payment outstanding to farmers is estimated at over Rs19,000 crore.

In another decision, the Cabinet also approved extending the umbrella scheme Green Revolution–Krishonnati Yojana comprising 11 schemes in agriculture for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20 at a cost of Rs33,270 crore. “These schemes look to develop the agriculture and allied sector in a holistic and scientific manner to increase the income of farmers by enhancing production, productivity and better returns," said an official statement.

While the Union cabinet extended the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana to 2019-20 with a financial outlay of Rs14,832 crore, it also approved the establishment of 20 news AIIMS hospitals, out of which six have been built. In addition, 73 existing medical colleges will be upgraded.

At the same time, the cabinet also gave its nod to revamp the country’s airport infrastructure, with the CCEA approving the upgradation of three airports at Lucknow, Chennai and Guwahati, with a financial allocation of Rs1,232 crore, Rs2,467 crore and Rs1,383 crore respectively.

Gyan Verma contributed to this story.

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