In its last budget before the Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi government may loosen its purse strings for the electorally important rural and agriculture sectors, senior government officials said on condition of anonymity. Budget (or interim budget) preparations are underway in the North Block office of the finance ministry even as speculation is rife that the government may go beyond the conventional vote-on-account presented in election years. Some government officials say the government may follow the 2009 example set by then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who, while presenting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s budget before the polls, expanded the ambit of what should have been a vote-on-account to announce annual allocations and some key policy measures.A senior government official added that ministries have been asked to submit their annual financial requirements and plan for 2019-20, not just the resource requirements for the next three months, to the finance ministry.The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS), the Centre’s biggest welfare programme, may see its annual budget touch Rs 60,0000 crore, an increase of Rs 5,000 crore from last year. The job guarantee scheme assures at least one member of every rural family 100 days of work a year, and the higher allocation would come at a time when farmers are reeling under agrarian distress caused by falling commodity prices .Officials indicated that several rounds of meetings had been held between the Prime Minister’s Office and the agriculture ministry to give shape to a package to offer substantial help to the ailing agriculture sector. They say this may take the form of a universal basic income for farmers and land-owners or interest-free loans for the farming community. “We are expecting a full-fledged package for the farmers. Many suggestions have gone to the PMO but the final shape of the package is yet to be taken,” said the first official cited above.The rural development ministry’s National Rural Livelihood Mission, another scheme that supports alternative, non-farm activities and finances women’s self-help groups, may also see an additional allocation of Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 crore. Since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power, SHGs have received more than Rs 1.04 lakh crore in bank credit. “The budget allocation may not see a big hike over the last year’s allocation. But the finance ministry may allow more extra budgetary resources from institutions such as NABARD to expand this scheme further,” said a second government official, adding that the scheme will also help the government double farm incomes. NABARD is short for the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development .Another popular scheme of the ministry, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna—aimed at providing housing for the homeless poor—is likely to see more money allocated too. The scheme assumes importance as the government is set to meet its annual target of construction of 6 million houses by March 2019. ”Earlier 1 million houses were built every year. In 2017-18, the government was able to built 4.5 million houses and next year we hope to complete another 6 million houses,” said a senior government functionary. For this scheme too, the finance ministry may give its authorisation to enhance the borrowing capacity. The transport ministry is expecting a budgetary allocation of about Rs 81,000 crore in the government’s last budget. “This year we asked for Rs 1.25 lakh crore but got only around Rs 81,150 crore. Being an election year, the government will go slow and can’t afford to give us as much as the sector demands.We are expecting a very modest budget,” a senior ministry official said.The social justice and empowerment ministry that has Rs 3,000 crore to pay in arrears to states for the post-matric scholarship given to students from the scheduled castes is hopeful of getting more money to clear the backlog and meet the commitment.Officials in the ministry said an additional Rs 1,500 crore (over the Rs 3,000 crore) will help meet disbursements of the scholarship for the financial year 2018-19.Another head under which the ministry will seek more money is the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. The government is in the process of conducting a fresh survey to identify those who are involved in the outlawed practice; and additional resources will be sought based on the outcome of that survey, the officials said.