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Rural distress: FM Arun Jaitley hints at greater support to farmers

Finance minister Arun Jaitley (File photo)

Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday hinted at greater support to farmers to recover from distress and listed steps initiated by the current regime to improve the lot of the middle class and the poor, including quota, tax relief and new scheme for health, seeking to bolster his government’s image in the build-up to the general polls.

The minister said besides doubling the expenditure on interest subvention for farmers, completing the 99 unfinished irrigation schemes and rolling out a novel crop insurance scheme, the government had sought to give farmers a 50% profit over their costs. “The farmers, of course, need greater support and the government is committed to the same,” he added.

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In a first, the government has extended a Rs 2-lakh-crore annual tax rebate (both direct and indirect taxes) to the middle class, without a single impost being increased for them, he said.

The GST has emerged as the single-most important “consumer-friendly measure” in India, and the government has sacrificed around Rs 1 lakh crore by lowering the GST rates on most commodities to make these available at reasonable prices, he added.

The government has promised a house for every rural poor by 2022 and about 50 lakh houses are being built in rural areas annually. State funding has been raised three times to Rs 27,000 crore annually during the NDA regime. Each village has been electrified and rural sanitation has moved up from 39% to over 98%. The poor are being provided cooking gas under the Ujjawala Scheme. The annual expenditure under the flagship employment guarantee scheme, MGNREGA, has crossed Rs 60,000 crore, “almost twice of what was being spent by the UPA”.

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The universal health scheme — Ayushman Bharat — is targeted at 40% of India’s population and each one of them can get hospital treatment free with the coverage up to Rs 5 lakh annually per family.

Slamming the opposition for paying only “lip sympathy” to the poor, the minister said the 10% reservation for economically weaker sections in government jobs and educational institutions does not fall foul of the basic structure of the Constitution; instead it’s the “single greatest recognition” of the poor in the general category.

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The minister said in every Budget, the lower end of the taxpayers have got relief. Even though the income tax slab is Rs 2.5 lakh, those with an earning up to Rs 3 lakh need not pay any tax. A Rs 40,000 standard deduction has been given to all employees. Similarly, all investments in housing, insurance and other saving instruments, have been raised in the last four years. The cost of this to the exchequer is almost Rs 97,000 crore per annum, he said.

Inflation during the five-year tenure has been kept between 3-4% against 10.4% during UPA-II.

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