An Indian farmer carries sugarcane to load on a tractor to sell it at a nearby sugar mill in Modinagar in Ghaziabad, some 45km east of New Delhi, on January 31, 2018.

India will focus on strengthening its rural and agricultural economy in the coming fiscal year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday.

The budget will “particularly focus on strengthening agriculture and rural economy,” Jatiley said in his opening remarks to the Indian Parliament, where he is presenting his fifth annual budget.

Thursday’s budget assumes more importance than usual because of a general election next year.

The finance minister added that the government will concentrate on the “provision for good health to economically less privileged, taking care of senior citizens, infrastructure creation and working with the states to provide more resources for improving the quality of education in the country.”

Jaitley also said that in the second half of the ongoing fiscal 2018 that ends Mar. 31, India expects to grow between 7.2 to 7.5 percent.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, economists broadly expected measures focused on India’s rural sector. One market watcher said the “malaise” among farmers ran deep following two years of drought that bit into profits.

Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won the local elections in his home state of Gujarat but lost its footing among the state’s rural population. In a recent interview, Modi said it was a priority for the government to help distressed farmers.

That led many to speculate that the budget would be aimed at winning back rural voters ahead of the next general election.

“My government is committed to the welfare of the farmers,” Jaitley told the parliament on Thursday. “For decades, the country’s agricultural policy and programs has remained production-centric.”

He added that the Modi government wanted to double farmers’ income by 2022 when India celebrates its 75th year of independence.

“Our emphasis is on generating higher incomes for farmers. We consider agriculture as an enterprise and want to help the farmers to produce more from the same land parcel at lesser cost and simultaneously realize higher prices for their produce,” Jaitley said.

He also added there’d be an emphasis on generating productive and gainful employment for farmers and landless families.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

News Reporter

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