The National Democratic Alliance government on Friday boosted allocation for the rural employment guarantee programme by ₹5000 crores to ₹60,000 crores in the 2019-20 interim budget for the scheme that is seen as a lifeline for small farmers and agricultural labourers in times of rural distress given that it provides 100 days of unskilled employment to them.
Interim finance minister Piyush Goyal standing in for finance minister Arun Jaitely in the budget ahead of the April May national polls also announced a hike for the rural roads programme to connect farms and villages to state capitals, schools and markets. He allocated ₹19,000 crores for the programme in the 2019-20 budget.
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In the last budget the rural jobs programme known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), had been allocated ₹ ₹55,000 crores with the government allocating another ₹6,082 crores earlier this month. In his speech, Goyal also promised extra funds over and above the ₹60,000 crores he had announced in case needed.
The budget presented on Friday is the last by the National Democratic Alliance government before the April-May general elections. It comes against the backdrop of a protracted crisis in rural India led by a sharp fall in crop prices and stagnating rural wages.
The rural employment guarantee scheme seeks to provide 100 days of unskilled employment a year to small farmers and agricultural labourers in times of rural distress.
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Ahead of the budget, speculation had been rife that the government would be announcing a slew of measures including a direct income transfer scheme for farmers, potentially as a pilot project, to counter the farm loan waiver promised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Hailing the the government's marquee Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or the Saubhagya scheme aimed at household electrification, Goyal said that free connections have been provided to almost all 'willing' households with all targeted households to be covered by March 2019.
The National Democratic Alliance also wants to showcase its success in providing round-the-clock power across the country in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. With the government’s focus is on providing “24x7 clean and affordable power to all" by March 2019, for which the states are on board, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to reap political dividends out of these schemes.
The Saubhagya scheme was to provide electricity connections to 40 million Indian homes by March 2019. However, this was aimed to be completed by December 2018, three months ahead of schedule. This target was reduced to 30 million rural and urban households after it was found that some households did not exist, or had already been electrified, according to Union government officials. Now, the target has come down to 24.847 million households, with 24.819 connections already provided under the scheme to rural and urban households.
This comes against the backdrop of the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which helped bring electricity to all of India’s 597,464 census villages on 28 April, setting the stage for universal household electrification.