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India's Jaitley unveils pro-poor budget, pledges reforms

[NEW DELHI] Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley unveiled a budget for the poor on Monday, announcing new rural aid and health programmes in a strategy shift that could boost his ruling party in coming state elections.

Presenting his third budget, Mr Jaitley described Asia's third-largest economy as a bright spot in a gloomy global landscape but said the government wanted to ensure that the benefits of growth are more widely shared among India's 1.3 billion people.

In his opening remarks, Mr Jaitley pledged to "spend prudently and wisely for the people, especially for the poor and downtrodden."

The spending package marks a radical shift from prime minister Narendra Modi's initial focus on investing in infrastructure in a bid to kick-start private-sector investment that remains weak.

Mr Jaitley described his three priorities as: strengthening India's firewalls by ensuring macroeconomic stability and prudent fiscal management; driving growth through domestic demand; and reforms to boost economic opportunity.

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Key areas of policy focus would be farming, social reforms, infrastructure and recapitalising India's banking system, Mr Jaitley said.

REUTERS

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