Aloor (Andhra Pradesh), Nov. 14: Manmohan Singh inaugurated the national food-for-work programme on his second date with the distressed farmers of Andhra Pradesh today.
Expectations were high as the Prime Minister's special helicopter touched down at Aloor village, about 52 km from Hyderabad.
The last time Singh came, in July, he had visited some drought-hit villages and made a special sanction for about 50 farmer families of Rs 50,000 each from the Prime Minister's relief fund and a house each under the Indira Awas Yojana.
Farmer suicides in Andhra number 515 in the six months since the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy took over as the chief minister.
Aloor, a village of migrant labourers, is in Ranga Reddy district, which alone is said to have recorded over 116 suicides in this period. Sixty-three of these have been officially confirmed.
As many as 649 farm labourers in Aloor have been chosen for the programme.
'Our priority is to strengthen panchayat raj institutions to build a strong and vibrant rural economy,' the Prime Minister told a public meeting after the launch, referring to the focus on rural development in the ruling alliance's common minimum programme.
The scheme will create yearlong jobs for the rural poor in 150 backward districts across the country at an outlay of Rs 5,400 crore and 37 lakh tonnes of rice.
The work to be taken up for the purpose will include water conservation, drought-proofing and land improvement, flood control, and rural connectivity through all-weather roads.
Eight Andhra districts, including the chief minister's home district of Kadapa, will benefit from the allocation of 1.8 lakh tonnes of rice and Rs 127 crore for this fiscal.
All eight had recorded suicides by farmers consuming pesticide and also starvation deaths of women and children.
Andhra had come under national focus because of its spiralling farmer suicides and crop failures for the fifth successive year of drought.
The food-for-work programme, Singh said, would be improvised in the days to come and the Centre was planning to convert it into an employment guarantee scheme to check migration to cities.
He prioritised total literacy, eradication of child labour, and healthcare as the essential ingredients to promoting quality of rural life.
The Telugu Desam Party had obtained 52 lakh tonnes of rice from the Centre for food-for-work activities in Andhra to promote rural infrastructure.