Bored government employees in poll-bound Bihar, many of them engaged on contract basis, suddenly have a spring in their steps. With state elections round 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 PM 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 launching schemes 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. Strangely though, the BJP is not opposed to the largesse. “In fact, the BJP has already declared that if it is voted to power it would hike by 20% every benefit,” Modi said.
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.
Nitish has also approved a 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’.