Govt plans to expand project to boost rural incomes ahead of 2019 election

The government will expand its flagship rural income generation programme to cover 10 million more households across states, officials said on Friday, as the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seeks to tackle growing farm distress ahead of general elections next year.

The National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) — a scheme to generate new income avenues and provide financial stability to rural households — will be expanded to another 750 blocks, 102 selected districts and 500,000 gram panchayats, said a note circulated among rural development ministry officials.

The note, accessed by HT, shows that the mission has set an ambitious target of mobilising 10 million households into 900,000 self-help groups.

Farmers have been hit by a combination of factors in recent years, including two successive droughts and a slump in the prices of agricultural commodities that has forced them to demand loan waivers and other sops. Farmers claim they are earning negative returns and prices below the minimum support price (MSP) set by the government for most crops. Many states, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, have witnessed widespread farmer protests in recent months.

“The NRLM was rolled out all over India. In some districts the intensive focus was not given earlier. It will be done now,” said rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha.

The government’s push for expansion of the livelihood scheme also comes amid Opposition criticism of the ruling party’s oft-repeated promise of doubling farmers’ income.

The government believes that the NRLM could provide an alternative source of income for rural families. The scheme offers support for poultry, seed shops, funds for self-help groups, fisheries and a vast range of jobs and occupations.

The government also wants to promote organic cultivation in 1,000 village clusters across the country.

It will promote another 1,500 custom hiring centres, which rent out farm equipment, to help small and marginal farmers get timely access to agricultural machinery.

In the Union budget for 2018-19, the Centre announced upgrading existing 22,000 rural haats into gramin agricultural markets (GrAMs) to allow farmers to directly sell their products at better prices.

This year, the government has the target of setting up 4,567 rural haats. This will be done involving beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

With special emphasis on self-help groups, which have a loan default rate of just 2.5%, the Centre wants to add another 2.2 million groups with bank linkages for a total loan amount of Rs 42,500 crore.

Officials said these targets will be achieved before the 2019 general election.