**New Delhi**: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday announced a slew of sops for the poor, farmers and small traders, the groups perceived to be worst hit by the November 8 demonetisation that caused widespread economic upheaval in the country.
In a New Year eve address that sounded more like a budget speech, Modi announced interest subvention on housing for the urban and rural poor, provided enhanced credit guarantees to small traders and MSMEs, gave a 60-day interest waiver on select farm loans, and ensured higher interest earnings for senior citizens.
He also directed cash-rich banks to go out of the way to help the not-so-privileged.
Modi, in his 45-minute speech — first in Hindi and then English — announced that the government would give rebates of four and three per cent for home loans of up to Rs 9 lakh and Rs 12 lakh, respectively, under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in 2017.
He said that the government has decided to enhance the credit guarantee for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) from Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore.
Possibly keeping in mind the model code of conduct that will come into force once elections to five state assemblies, including in Uttar Pradesh, are announced next week, the Prime Minister flagged off several schemes aimed at helping the poor.
Farmers who have taken loans from district cooperative banks and societies have been granted waiver on interest for a period of 60 days. “The amount of the 60-day interest waiver will be directly transferred to the farmers’ accounts,” he said.
Striking an emotional note in a speech where he lauded India’s “125 crore people” for bearing with the pain of the demonetisation fallout, he said thousands of people had written to him about the hardships they faced.
Terming demonetisation as a “historic cleansing ritual”, Modi said people of the country had taken the biggest “shudhi yagna” after Diwali, and had, through their stoicism in the face of adversity, proved that a majority of Indians wanted freedom from corruption.
He thanked people for standing by him despite all the inconveniences which have been brought about by the policy of banning Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.
He said the note-ban policy was aimed at the dishonest and to rid the nation of black money.
He also said that dishonest bank officials, who may have helped people illegally convert their illicit wealth, won’t be spared.
The Prime Minister, however, didn’t give any figures on the amount of old currency deposited in banks after the demonetisation.
Modi also announced a scheme to provide pregnant women financial aid of Rs 6,000 as part of efforts to bring down the maternal mortality rate.
“The scheme will be applicable across the over 650 districts of the country. Under this scheme a pregnant woman will be provided with Rs 6,000 for covering hospital admission, vaccination and nutritional food,” said Modi in his special address to the nation on New Year’s Eve.
“The money will be directly transferred to pregnant women bank accounts,” he said, adding that it “will greatly help in bringing down maternal mortality rate”.
Currently the scheme is being implemented on a pilot basis in 53 districts with the benefit amount being Rs 4,000.