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Govt hawks some more concessions
- Farmers, street vendors plied with poll sops

New Delhi, Jan. 20: Pressing forward with the poll-sop policy of something for every interest group, the government today turned its attention to the rural economy and the street economy.

The cabinet cleared a proposal to establish a national commission for farmers that will suggest ways to improve their incomes, slashed the interest rate on loans for irrigation projects from 10.5 to 6.5 per cent and approved a centrally-sponsored scheme to provide urban services in rural areas.

It felt a national policy for street vendors was also necessary in order to give them some legal status.

This is the fourth instalment in the series of blandishments the government has announced over the past two weeks after deciding to go in for early elections.

In an attempt to blunt criticism, parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said: “All these measures were announced by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his Independence Day speech last year. The framework for this package was ready by September when the elections were nowhere in sight.”

The commission for farmers will have a chairman of cabinet rank and two full-time and three part-time members.

Its brief will be to review the status of agriculture, recommend policy and programmes to enhance productivity, evaluate generation and dissemination of technology, and analyse the effectiveness of price and marketing policies and legal regimes.

The objective will be to increase farm income, and take note of the changes taking place in the economic and trade environment. It will also discuss any other issue that is incidental or is referred to the panel by the government. The commission will prepare a roadmap for sustainable development of agriculture and optimise its contribution to the growth of the economy.

The cabinet also approved a change in the accelerated irrigation benefit programme under which the loan and the grant components will be clubbed. Two categories of beneficiary states have been created: the first — called the general category — will get a grant component of up to 30 per cent, and the second — a special category of states — will get grants up to 90 per cent.

Hawkers have been brought under a national policy. The move is an attempt to provide hawkers licences, create hawking zones in urban areas, ensure the empowerment of hawkers’ organisations, rehabilitate child vendors and offer social security and access to credit through cooperatives and micro-finance institutions.

Street vendors will also be provided power and water. Measures will be taken to protect them against exploitation and extortion. The policy will be implemented by states.

Under a Rs 12,390-crore centrally-sponsored scheme, urban services will be provided in rural areas. It will focus on four areas — road and power, telecom and infotech services, educational and training institutions, and marketing hubs to ensure rural people get the best prices for the goods they produce.

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