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India to boost struggling farmers in annual budget

Update: February, 29/2016 - 14:25
India has pledged to spend $5.2bn to double the income of struggling farmers and boost a rural employment scheme/ — AFP File Photo

NEW DELHI — India aims to double the income of its millions of struggling farmers including by spending 359 billion rupees (US$5.2 billion) on boosting the vast agriculture sector, in plans outlined on Monday in the annual budget.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government was focusing on boosting livelihoods in rural areas where more than half of the country's population lives.

"We are grateful to our farmers for being the backbone of the country's food security," Jaitley told parliament as he unveiled the budget.

"We need... to give back to our farmers a sense of income security," Jaitley added.

"For rural development as a whole I have allocated 877.6 billion rupees ($12.7 billion) in this budget," he said.

The government will also hike spending on a massive rural employment scheme, a crop insurance programme, plans to improve farmers' access to markets and increasing access of isolated areas to the Internet.

The government faces crucial state elections this year and next, when the plight of farmers suffering from falling crop prices and several years of drought will play a major role.

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a shock defeat at elections in one of India's biggest and poorest states.

Earlier this month, a farming caste called the Jats sparked riots in northern India to press demands for quotas in government jobs and education, saying they were being left behind by living off the land.

According to the last census in 2011, India has around 120 million farmers and an additional 145 million agricultural labourers.— AFP

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