RURAL INDIANEW DELHI (TIP): Finance minister Arun Jaitley unveiled what appeared to be a pro-poor budget on February 29, announcing higher spending in the rural economy to fire demand.

But the minister also promised to pursue economic reforms, including winning approval for a goods and services tax and a new bankruptcy law, to keep India expanding as the world’s fastest growing major economy in his second full budget.

He announced record investments in a rural job generating scheme as well as higher spending to boost irrigation as part of efforts to facedown looming crisis in the rural economy.

Jaitley announced two schemes to promote organic farming and said 28.5 lakh hectares will be brought under an irrigation scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sichai Yojana.

Jaitley said a dedicated long-term irrigation fund will be created in NABARD with a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore.

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“The total allocation for agriculture and farmers’ welfare is Rs. 35,984 crore,” Jaitley said, and added: “The government will allocate Rs 5,500 crore for a crop insurance scheme.”

“The government will reorient its intervention in farm and non-farm sectors to double the income of farmers by 2022,” Jaitley said, echoing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to focus on the wellbeing of the agrarian community.

The ruling NDA dispensation has been criticised by opposition parties, especially the Congress, for allegedly being ‘pro-industrialist’ and ‘anti-poor’.

Shares of rural and agriculture companies were trading sharply up on measures suggested in the Budget speech. Jaitley also said a unified agriculture market e-platform will be dedicated to nation on birthday of Dr. BR Ambedkar. “We had to work in an unsupportive global environment and obstructive political atmosphere,” Jaitley said, in an apparent dig at the Opposition.

The finance minister has the job to make India regain its spot as an investors’ darling as well as signal long-term economic reforms without hurting the country’s vast consuming class.

“We must strengthen firewalls against risks through structural reforms, rely on domestic market so that growth does not slow down,” Jaitley said.

The government will undertake nine-point reforms, including steps to ensure ease of business in governance, fiscal discipline to ensure benefits for people, the minister said.

In his budget speech, Jaitley announced a new initiative to provide subsidised cooking gas to BPL families.

“I am presenting this budget when the global economy is in serious crisis… We converted difficulties and challenges to an opportunity.

“Indian economy has held its ground firmly,” Jaitley said as he began his speech.

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