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String of farm measures in Jaitley’s third Budget

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Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a string of farm measures, rural aid and health programmes in the Union Budget for 2016-17 presented to Parliament on Monday. Jaitley also announced measures that, he said, would help more than two crore taxpayers.

The strategy shift, according to reports, is aimed at boosting the ruling BJP’s prospects in crucial state elections to be held soon.

The minister said the Government would stick to the roadmap for fiscal consolidation and fixed next year’s fiscal deficit target at 3.5 per cent of the GDP. Presenting his third Budget, Jaitley pledged to “spend prudently and wisely for the people, especially for the poor and downtrodden.”

He outlined what he said were the nine pillars on which the Government would base its “transformative agenda” for the economy in the coming year, first among them agriculture and farmers’ welfare. Jaitley said the key areas of policy focus would be farming, social reforms, infrastructure and recapitalising the banking system. He has allocated Rs. 35,984 crore for farmers’ welfare.

The FM has raised the deduction limit for those with total income of less than Rs. 5 lakh from 2,000 to 5,000. He has also announced relief for tax payers who do not own a house and don’t get house rent allowance from employers.

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The minister has announced a 228 per cent jump in funds for rural transformation, allocating Rs. 38,500 crore for MGNREGA, a rural employment scheme that was a flagship of the previous Congress-led UPA Government. Jaitley said if the money was spent, it would be the highest ever spent on MNREGA.

Among major announcements was one for LPG connections for poor women, which he said would benefit 1.5 crore households this year.

The Finance Minister began by saying he is presenting the Union Budget at a time when the global economy is in serious crisis, emphasising that “India has held its ground firmly” in tough times.

“We inherited an economy of slow growth, high inflation and low faith in Government…amidst global headwinds, the Indian economy has held its own,” said Jaitley, reading part of his speech while seated.

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