Government employees in poll-bound Bihar, many of them engaged on contract basis, suddenly have a spring in their steps. With state elections around the corner, it is raining sops and thousands of faceless staff is soaking in the extra attention that is being lavished on them.
Not to be outdone by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who gave a Rs 1.25 lakh crore package for the state, chief minister Nitish Kumar has loosened the purse-strings and launched his own charm offensive. Besides launchings chemes and projects worth Rs 19,500 crore, he hopes to better his JD(U)’s prospects by hiking salaries and giving benefits to a wide section of government employees.
The big beneficiaries of Nitish’s ‘generosity’ include over 3.5 lakh school teachers, over 65,000 low-ranking policemen and tens of thousands of employees, mostly backwards, Dalits and Muslims.
"These sops place an additional burden on the exchequer of between Rs 7,000 crore and Rs 8,000 crore per annum," says Nitish’s arch rival, Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP. Strangely though, the BJP is not opposed to the largesse. "In fact, the BJP has already declared that if it is voted to office it would hike by 20% every benefit that the Nitish Kumar government has announced," Modi told HT.
With competitive populism being the flavour of the season, Nitish had announced last month "regular" pay scales for nearly 3.5 lakh school teachers. The move entails a hike in salary of each teacher by anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 per month.
DM Diwakar, director of Patna-based think tank AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, says it is wrong to call the move a poll sop. "The government is merely trying to do away with ad-hocism to improve the quality of education," he argues.
The Bihar CM has also approved a long-pending proposal to give additional month's salary as 'honorarium' to all policemen up to the sub-inspector rank. He has also sought to consolidate his position at the panchayat level by increasing by Rs 3,000 per month the honorarium of 20,000 ‘tola sevaks’ and 10,000 talimi markaz or education volunteers, who work among Dalits and Muslims.
The government has also announced to increase by Rs 3,000 per month the honororium for 10,000-odd ‘vikas mitra’, who assist in the execution of welfare schemes among Dalits. Other largesse include 25% hike in the allowance for anganwadi sevikas, assistants and mid-day meal cooks..
In another electorally significant move, the government, on August 18, raised the grant to the Bihar Sunni waqf board from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2 crore and for Shia waqf board from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 80 lakh, a four-fold rise. Amidst all this, the retirement age of doctors in Bihar has been raised from 65 to 67 years.
“This is a do-or-die poll as much for PM Modi … as it is for Nitish Kumar, whose JD (U) was reduced to two out 40 Bihar seats in May 2014 Lok Sabha poll,” explains former JD(U) MP Shivanand Tiwari. The desperation of politicians has resulted in a deluge of sops.
Read:Nearly 70% of Bihar struggles below the poverty line