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Last updated: 22 Jan, 2024  

Wheat.9.Thmb.jpg Rs 2.2 lakh cr for free foodgrains; Vishwakarma Scheme to get big push

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IANS | 22 Jan, 2024
The Interim Budget is expected to allocate Rs 2.2 lakh crore to implement the free foodgrains scheme for the poor and hike outlays on other social welfare schemes such as the rural employment guarantee scheme under MGNREGA and the Vishwakarma Scheme for craftsmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, basket makers and masons.

The Prime Minister has declared that the government will provide free foodgrains for five years with effect from January 1, 2024 as part of his policy to address national food and nutrition security.

The scheme is also aimed at mitigating the financial hardship of the poor as the money saved on foodgrains through the extension of the scheme will help them meet other needs, the Prime Minister said.

Technology-based platforms under the Digital India initiative are being used to ensure that the benefits reach the right people and the ‘One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC)’ initiative enables enormous benefit for migrants, facilitating both intra and inter-state portability of entitlements.

While Rs 60,000 crore was allocated for the MGNREGA scheme in the 2023-24 Budget, the amount is likely to go up significantly in the Interim Budget.

The law governing the flagship rural job programme provides guaranteed wage employment of 100 days in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members are willing to take up manual work.

MGNREGA was initially launched as a safety measure to provide jobs between sowing and harvesting which is a lean period for rural jobs but has also proved useful in times of natural calamities such as drought and floods, to help the poor.

The demand for jobs, in fact, shot up under MGNREGA during the current financial year due to the erratic monsoon.

The scheme has also helped in the empowerment of women as statistics for 2022-23 show that their participation has gone up to 57.8 per cent in MGNREGA jobs, exceeding men.

The employment opportunities available under MGNREGA also result in raising the overall wage level in rural areas as the workers have a choice of an additional job if they do not get enough pay on farms.

The Aadhaar-based payment system, which has now been made mandatory for receiving payment under MGNREGA, has helped to plug leaks in the rural job scheme and ensure that the benefits are provided only to the targeted groups.

The outlay for the Vishwakarma scheme for which Rs 13,000 crore had been allocated in the 2023-24 budget, is also likely to be raised in the Interim Budget. The scheme was launched by Prime Minister Modi in September 2023 to provide end-to-end support to artisans and craftspeople who work with their hands and tools.

These traditional artisans and craftspeople, referred to as ‘Vishwakarmas’ are engaged across 18 trades in occupations such as blacksmiths, basket makers, goldsmiths, potters, carpenters and sculptors.

The scheme is turning out to be a success as close to 74 lakh applications have already been submitted by various artisans.

Under the scheme, the government is providing training to upgrade skills, loans up to Rs 3 lakh without any collateral for artisans and helping them to market their products.

Marketing support will be provided to the artisans and craftspeople in the form of quality certification, branding, onboarding on e-commerce platforms such as GeM, advertising, publicity and other marketing activities to improve linkage to local and global markets.

The Vishwakarma Scheme aims to improve the quality, scale and reach of products and services of artisans and craftspeople and to integrate them with the domestic and global markets.

This would result in the economic empowerment of such workers, especially those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Communities, women, transgender and other weaker sections of society.

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