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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 10:14 GMT
India launches rural aid project
Premier Manmohan Singh
Singh is striving to echo Gandhi's self-reliance policy
India has launched a massive food-for-work programme aimed at tackling hunger in poor rural areas.

Poor farmers will earn the equivalent of five kilograms of grain for each day's work - mostly paid in food but including a small cash sum.

They will help build roads, bridges, canals and work on water conservation and flood prevention projects.

Premier Manmohan Singh said the 20bn rupee ($445m) scheme was a "first step to eradicating rural unemployment".

The federal government will provide states with the food and funding.

Manifesto pledge

Mr Singh launched the scheme on Sunday in the village of Aloor in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which has suffered hundreds of suicides by farmers devastated by drought.

Parched farmland
This is a first step toward the eradication of rural unemployment and ensuring that nobody goes without food
Manmohan Singh

The scheme will target 150 poverty-stricken districts nationwide.

Mr Singh's Congress party won general elections in May partly on the strength of its pledges to tackle rural poverty, which it said had been neglected by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

Mr Singh said on Sunday he was trying to fulfil the manifesto vow to "liberate the country from poverty, hunger and unemployment".

He said rural development would be accelerated and farm production increased.

"We will move faster to develop roads and other infrastructure in rural areas," Mr Singh said.

"We will earnestly strive to realise Mahatma Gandhi's dream of economic self-reliance. It's not an easy task. But if the people of Andhra Pradesh and India lend their support, we can move forward," he said.

Andhra Pradesh is one of the states worst hit by crop failures.

Even since Congress came to power, around 500 farmers are reported to have committed suicide there. Many more have become unemployed.

Although there is no figure for the number of people the government hopes to help with the new scheme, it does pledge to provide 100 days' work for at least one person from each rural family.

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