Finance minister Arun Jaitley pledged over Rs 87,700 crore on Monday to boost India’s rural economy, with analysts terming it an attempt by the ruling BJP to woo voters in the countryside as more than half a dozen states will have assembly polls in the next 18 months.
The amount is about Rs 8,000 crore more than the allocation in the previous financial year and is primarily targeted at the MGNREGA job scheme, rural electrification, digital land records management and rural connectivity.
The budget is being seen as a strategy shift by the government that was elected on a businessfriendly ticket and has been accused by the Opposition of being “anti-poor”.
Jaitley announced Rs 2.87 lakh crore for village panchayats and municipalities that will be spent over the next five years.
The minister said this money will translate into an average assistance of over Rs 80 lakh per village panchayat and over Rs 21 crore for each urban local body.
The bulk of the amount will go to 2,40,000 panchayats with the aim to provide basic services like infrastructure for water supply, sewage and sanitation.
“These enhanced allocations are capable of transforming villages and small towns. Ministry of Panchayati Raj will work with the states and evolve guidelines to actualise this,” Jaitley said.
Rural electrification under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, which the Prime Minister announced during his Independence Day speech last year, received Rs 8,500 crore.
As part of the programme, 18,500 villages will be electrified by 2018.
The government also unveiled a new scheme to spread digital literacy in villages which will cover around six crore households within the next three years.
Of India’s 16.8 crore rural households as many as 12 crore do not have computers and are unlikely to have digitally literate people, according to government data.
The budget also focused on modernisation of land records, critical for dispute-free titles in rural India. The minister said the National Land Records Moder nization Programme has been overhauled under the Digital India Initiative and will be implemented as a central sector scheme with effect from April 1, 2016. “The revamped programme will build an integrated land information management system. ` 150 crore has been provided for this purpose,” Jaitley said.
The government also unveiled the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan that will help panchayats develop governance capabilities. Jaitley said Rs 655 crore has been set aside in 2016-17.