Sops for middle class, poor and farmers on cards.
Arup Roychoudhury, Sanjeeb Mukherjee and Archis Mohan report.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on New Year’s Eve, will address a nation expecting promised ‘gains’ after 50 days of note ban ‘pain’.
The word from the government is people won’t be disappointed.
He is set to announce populist measure, the focus of which would be the poor — particularly women and farmers — the middle class and small merchants.
While a few measures are expected to be announced on Saturday, a lot many could follow in the run up to the Budget.
Some of the eye-catching announcements could be a year’s supply of free gas cylinders to Below Poverty Line households, and, possibly, an income-transfer scheme for almost 100 million extremely poor families, both in the rural and urban areas.
There could also be packages for various stressed sectors. The Budget for 2017-2018 could be the ‘most populist’ in recent times, according to some sources.
Officials said a lot of such steps would involve the extensive use of DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) to ensure that funds reach the targetted beneficiaries.
The PM is also likely to provide relief to small entrepreneurs and traders, which have suffered the brunt of demonetisation, and to the farming sector.
It couldn’t be known if the PM might take the opportunity to also indicate relief in direct tax to the middle class.
But on Friday, the PM, addressing the DiGi Dhan Mela, yet again spoke about how corruption and black money had exploited the poor and the middle classes.
Beyond the sops, the PM is also likely to unveil the next steps in his government’s fight against corruption and black money, particularly the crackdown on benami properties.
This could be done by linking all land records to the Adhaar database in coming days.
Just as the PM took ownership of the note ban decision by announcing it in an address to the nation at 8 pm on November 8, he would also take ownership of announcing the schemes for welfare of the poor on Saturday evening.
Sources said the PM could advance his address to the nation to late afternoon.
The PM and his closest advisers, sources said, were conscious of the need for a sustained campaign to shape the political narrative on the note ban, and the entire month of January, culminating with the Union Budget on February 1, will see the government reach out to select sectors.
With the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh repeatedly flagging the losses faced by its traditional support base of small traders, merchants and small and medium entrepreneurs, there are expectations of relief for these as well.
The government is also working on increased allocations for health and education sector, while the PM’s dream of housing for rural and urban poor by 2022 might also get a boost.
The Budget 2017-2018, according to some officials, could cap it all and could be one of the ‘most populists’ Budgets in recent times.
“Starting from tomorrow onwards, one should expect many schemes, programmes and initiatives to show how the government is well utilizing the extra funds collected from demonetisation and also which lower the pain,” a senior official remarked.
Officials said a scheme is being thought out to bring over 1 million poor families out of poverty over the next 3 to 4 years.
These families have already been identified in the rural and urban areas through the Socio-Economic Caste Census.
On DBT, officials said the plan as of now is to ensure that all basic services are provided to citizens of this country through DBT.
The government plans to bring 200 schemes under DBT by March 31, 2017 and as many as 500 by December 31, 2017.
“There would be special attempts to make DBT popular as is this government’s first attempt to digitise the economy,” an official explained.
“Most basic services would be brought under the ambit of DBT in the coming weeks,” the official explained.
The PM in his speech could also thank the people of India for their support for demonetisation and thereafter assure them that his government would do all possible to lower the pain demonetisation.
The PM is likely to laud people that no significant incident of unrest has taken place in the last 50 days.
In a recent interview, the PM has said that note ban was a decision taken 40 years too late, and how if it was delayed the problem would magnified exponentially in size and complexity.
The PM has also said that note ban could have only be taken when the economy was doing well.
Sources said the PM will explain how most of the demonetized money has returned to the banks.
On Thursday, senior Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the government wanted the money hidden to be back in the system and it has left behind a financial trail. At his public rally in Dehradun on December 27, Modi has spoken about how the money deposited in banks doesn’t automatically become ‘white money’ and that deposits will be scrutinised.
The PM is also likely to share his vision of India where the farmer is happy, the trader is prosperous, every woman is empowered and the youth gainfully employed.
In his interview to newsmagazine India Today, the PM said he wished to see ‘an India where every family has a house and every household has access to the basic amenities of electricity, water and a toilet. An India, which is Swachh, from all forms of filth.”