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New government hits the ground running

  • The PM-Kisan scheme is now expected to cost 12,000 crore more than the 75,000 crore originally planned
  • The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised to further expand the coverage of PM-Kisan to all farmers

NEW DELHI : The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Friday set the pitch for its second term with key announcements for the welfare of the armed forces, farmers and small traders, just a day after the cabinet was sworn in.

In a major outreach initiative to address the concerns of the farming community, which cost the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) three state elections last December, the Prime Minister extended the scope of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, or PM-Kisan scheme, to include all the 145 million farmers across the country, besides announcing a 3,000 monthly pension scheme for 125 million small and marginal farmers.

In a departure from the past, the Union cabinet also approved a 13,343-crore centrally-sponsored vaccination scheme for livestock, including cows, bulls, buffaloes, sheep, goats and pigs, to eradicate diseases such as foot-and-mouth and Brucellosis to support livestock-rearing farmers.

The government also announced a pension scheme for 30 million small traders, recognising the plight of shopkeepers, small traders and the self-employed hurt by the November 2016 decision to demonetize high-value currency notes, and the much-debated roll-out of the goods and services tax (GST) in July 2017.

“All small shopkeepers and self-employed persons as well as the retail traders with GST turnover below 1.5 crore and age between 18-40 years, can enrol for this scheme. The scheme would benefit more than 3 crore small shopkeepers and traders," the government said in a statement.

“By imitating a pension architecture for the trading community, the Prime Minister and his team have fulfilled a major promise made to the people of India," the statement added.

In the first decision of its second term, the Prime Minister announced substantial changes to the scholarship scheme for the children of security personnel killed in the line of duty, by extending it to the wards of state police officials, and central and state paramilitary forces.

“The first decision is dedicated to those who protect India," Modi tweeted, referring to the changes to Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme under the National Defence Fund. The amount of scholarship for boys was increased from 2,000 per month to 2,500, and for girls from 2,250 to 3,000 per month.

Briefing reporters after the first cabinet meeting of the re-elected NDA government, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said the cabinet decisions indicate how, within 24 hours of taking oath, the Modi administration has started taking big decisions for farmers.

These big-bang announcements are expected to further cement BJP’s support base among farmers and traders in the backdrop of the impending assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Delhi.

The NDA stormed back to power with a bigger mandate than in 2014, winning as many as 353 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the coalition had got 336 seats. Of the 353 seats that the NDA got this time, the BJP alone won 303.

Friday’s announcements came even before the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, which begins on 17 June and will continue till 26 July. The Union budget will be presented on 5 July and the Economic Survey will be submitted a day earlier.

While President Ram Nath Kovind will address the joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament on the first day of the session, a pro-tem speaker is also likely to be appointed on the same day.

The speaker will administer the oath of office to all the newly elected members of Parliament.

Under the 10774.5 crore PM-Kisan Pension Yojana, 50 million small and marginal farmers will be targeted in the first three years.

A farmer within the age group of 18-40 years can join the scheme by paying a monthly premium, which will be matched by the government.

A monthly pension of 3,000 will be paid after the beneficiary reaches 60 years of age. In the event of his death, 50% of the benefits accrued will be paid to the spouse.

Narendra Singh Tomar, the minister for agriculture and farmers welfare, rural development and panchayati raj, said when welfare programmes are rolled out, many may raise doubts about the source of funds, but experience shows that such worries are misplaced.

The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised to further expand the coverage of PM-Kisan to all farmers.

The previous NDA government, in its interim budget, had announced the income support scheme for small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres (two hectares) of land.

Such farmers were to receive three instalments of 2,000, each, every four months. With the scope being expanded, PM-Kisan will cost the government around 87,000 crore, or 12,000 crore more than the initial allocation.

At the scheme’s launch in Gorakhpur in February, Modi had hinted that the scope and expanse of the PM-Kisan scheme may be increased.

The previous NDA government had promised to double farmers’ income by 2022 by raising farm output and prices.

It had raised minimum support price of various crops including rice, wheat and pulses.

utpal.b@livemint.com

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