Sops for urban poor, farmers, women, senior citizens and small traders formed the crux of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s budget-like address to the nation on the eve of New Year, ahead of assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh.
Saturday’s address to the nation comes 50 days after the first one on November 8 when he announced the scrapping of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, which resulted in long queues outside banks and ATMs across the country.
Noting that even so many years after independence, millions of poor do not have their own home, Modi, in his 45-minute speech—first in Hindi and then English—offered rebates of up to 4% for housing loans of Rs 9 lakh and 12 lakh to urban and rural poor.
“When black money increased in our economy, houses became out of reach of even the middle class,” he said.
Modi also announced 33% more homes for the rural poor under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana (Housing Scheme).
The Prime Minister also came out with a slew of schemes for farmers, who had faced the brunt of demonetisation.
“In the last few weeks, an impression was sought to be created that agriculture sector has been destroyed. Farmers themselves have given a fitting reply to those who were doing so. Rabi sowing is up by 6% when compared to last year. Fertiliser off-take is up by 9% during this period,” the PM said.
Modi announced that the government will bear interest for 60 days on crop loans taken by farmers from district cooperative banks and primary societies for sowing in this Rabi season.
Besides, three crore Kisan Credit Cards would be converted to RuPay Cards within three months to help farmers purchase various inputs anywhere in the country.
NABARD would be given an additional Rs 20,000 crore to finance district cooperative banks and societies.
Modi said farmers who have paid the interest on loans taken in the last two months will get this amount back directly in their bank accounts.
The Prime Minister also announced a financial aid of Rs 6,000 to pregnant women in more than 650 districts to cover hospital admission, vaccination and nutritional food. The move is seen as an attempt to bring down the high maternal mortality rate prevalent in the country.
This is not a new scheme, as pregnant women were being given Rs 4,000 under Indira Gandhi Matritv Sahyog Yojana, implemented on a pilot basis in 53 districts.
The money, the PM said, will be directly transferred to pregnant women’s bank accounts. “It will greatly help in bringing down maternal mortality rate,” he said.
For senior citizens, Modi announced a lock-in on interest rates. “Banks often reduce their deposit rates, when they receive a large volume of money. This should not adversely impact senior citizens. Under the scheme, senior citizens will receive a fixed interest rate of 8 per cent for a period of 10 years, on deposits upto 7.5 lakh rupees. The interest will be paid monthly,” he said.
Small traders too did not miss the bus. Modi announced raising the credit guarantee for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to Rs 2 crore from current Rs 1 crore.
“Banks have also been asked to increase working capital loans from 20% of turnover to 30% for enterprises that transact digitally. Many people connected with this sector have made cash deposits in the last few weeks. Banks have been asked to take this into account when deciding on working capital,” Modi said.
The Prime Minister also reiterated his desire to hold simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections.
“This is to break the endless cycle of elections, reduce election expenditure, and minimize pressure on the administrative machinery,” he said, adding that the time has come for this to be seriously considered and debated.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi, Modi concluded his speech saying the path towards truth that he showed us is still most appropriate. “Let us recall the Mahatma and resolve to follow his message of truth and goodness.”