India appeals to key rural areas in last budget before election

India appeals to key rural areas in last budget before election

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India promised hundreds of billions of dollars to develop poor rural areas and to help struggling farmers in its annual budget Thursday, looking to win over voters ahead of the next general election.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government would build new roads and toilets and bring electricity to millions of rural villages in his last full-year budget before national elections due by May 2019.He pledged to spend $220 billion on rural infrastructure and help farmers find alternatives to the post-harvest burning of crop stubble that every year blankets swathes of north India in choking smog.
“My government is committed to the welfare of the farmers,” he said.
“We consider agriculture as an enterprise and want to help farmers to produce from the same land parcel at lesser cost, and simultaneously realise higher prices for their produce.”
The majority of India’s 1.25 billion population lives in the countryside, and winning rural voters is key to election victory in the world’s largest democracy.
The government promised in the previous budget to double farmer incomes in the next five years and bring 10 million households out of poverty by 2019.
But many still live and work in near penury at the mercy of loan sharks and a harsh climate, and rural disaffection has stoked protests and a rise in farmer suicides in recent years.
Access to water is particularly problematic in India, where less than half of all agricultural land is irrigated, leaving farmers under the heel of the weather.
Jaitley promised to invest more money in irrigation schemes that use solar power to pump groundwater to the surface.
And he said the government would help some states subsidise machinery for farmers to destroy crop stubble to deter burning.
The burn-off in the northern farming states of Haryana and Punjab last year caused pollution across the region to spike at levels considered hazardous to health for weeks on end.
Jaitley told parliament the budget shortfall would be 3.5 percent in the fiscal year 2017/8, higher than the target of 3.2 percent.
He set next year’s target at 3.3 percent.
India’s economic growth slumped to 5.7 percent in the first quarter of the current financial year—the lowest in three years.
The government estimates the economy will bounce back to grow 7.2-7.5 percent in the second half of the current fiscal year and has said the country is on track to achieve growth of eight percent “soon”, reports AFP, New Delhi.

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