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Sop opera played out to pull voters

PUNJAB CHANDIGARH: From launching the amended ‘atta-dal’ scheme to notifying Jats and Jat Sikhs as other backward classes (OBCs), the SAD-BJP government in Punjab has been on a sop spree to woo voters with an eye on the April 30 Lok Sabha elections in the state
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2014 10:36 AM IST

From launching the amended ‘atta-dal’ scheme to notifying Jats and Jat Sikhs as other backward classes (OBCs), the SAD-BJP government in Punjab has been on a sop spree to woo voters with an eye on the April 30 Lok Sabha elections in the state.

While it rushed to declare Jat Sikhs as OBCs late on Tuesday night to catch the quote bus, the cash-starved government has distributed 1.12 lakh tubewell connections in the past month, overlooking the additional financial burden of Rs 500 crore on the state exchequer. It also announced “tubewell connections on demand with no backlog” from September 2014 onwards.

Then, the Akali-BJP government has distributed ‘blue (beneficiary) cards’ in thousands, mainly in the Malwa area, under its amended atta-dal scheme. The scheme was expanded to cover a total of 32 lakh families in the state after the Congress-led UPA government brought the “game-changing” food security programme. The state has virtually hijacked the central scheme.

Besides, it has invited job applications to fill nearly 1,000 regular posts of ETT (elementary teachers training, primary) teachers and notified the recruitment of 1,230 patwaris in the next two years, including 600 patwaris, by March 31, 2014. Above all, top leaders of the Akali-BJP alliance have been crisscrossing the state to lay foundation stones for setting up memorials, power sub-stations and centrally-sponsored railway overbridge projects. The financial crunch being faced by the state does not seem to matter much at this stage. The obvious aim is to find favour with the voters in the parliamentary polls.

Facing anti-incumbency, Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been showering sops since November 2013. The Congress regime, which also faces the assembly polls this year, has pulled out all stops to woo voters.

Taking a cue from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi, it read out a major pre-poll pacifier in January 2014 for domestic electricity consumers by rolling back the existing rates of tariff and then cut the tariff by 15 paise per unit for the pampered farm sector. At the same time, it did not propose any tariff hike for 2014-15.

While the rural electrification subsidy bill, a major drain on the state exchequer, is set to swell further, the state will have to bear additional Rs 700-800 crore on account of relief in tariff for domestic electricity consumers. In November 2013, the CM had, at a political rally in Gohana, announced numerous pre-poll sops, including hike in old-age pension; increase in compensation for crop damage; interim financial relief of Rs 2,000 per month to Class 3 and 4 employees; risk allowance for police personnel, jump in wages of of safai karamcharis; and rebate in application fee for women applying for government jobs.

However, this poll-centric populism is showing its effect on the financial health of the state. The shape of things to come can be measured from the jump in the revenue deficit from Rs 2,443 crore in the budget estimates for 2013-14 to Rs 5,612 crore before the close of this fiscal.


Losing ground due to the growing sentiment against the Congress, the one-year-old Virbhadra Singh-led government in Himachal Pradesh has been announcing sops, particularly during the past six months despite a debt burden of more than Rs 28,707 crore.

Like his predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal, chief minister Virbhadra Singh made a desperate effort to appease the key vote bank of state government employees by announcing a “bonanza of financial benefits” for various staff categories. On August 15 last year, the government announced the grant of 8% additional dearness allowance to state government employees. The decision has put a fiscal burden of Rs 580 crore on the state, as there are nearly 1 lakh employees.

The government also announced upgradation of nearly 350 schools and re-opening of 149 schools which were de-notified by the previous BJP government. The upgradation would put a burden of Rs 70 crore, while re-opening would cost nearly 10 crore.

The state government also announced to give civil pension to those ex-servicemen who had served in the state government. This move is expected to impose a burden of Rs 30 crore, with there being nearly Rs 1.3 lakh serving defence personnel and 1.4 lakh ex-servicemen in the state.

The politically significant Kangra district has the highest population of in-service soldiers (about 55,000), followed by Hamirpur (around 25,000) and Mandi (nearly 15,000), while Una and Bilaspur districts together have 23,000 soldiers. There is also a substantial number of war widows (1.77 lakh) and dependents of serving personnel/ex-servicemen (8 lakh).

The government, during its cabinet meeting on Tuesday, announced to exempt the industry from electricity duty. This decision will put a fiscal burden of Rs 80 crore .

The Congress had also announced skill development allowance for the youth (age group of 16 to 35 years). This flagship scheme will impose a financial burden of Rs 8.5 crore (as on February 28) and is likely to benefit 40,000 youth.

The government has also tried to woo sects and religious bodies as their support could be crucial in the elections. The step to exempt religious bodies from the Land Ceiling Act will legalise thousands of acres of land owned by religious bodies and deras in the state. Religious and spiritual organisations will enjoy exemption and can own land more than 150 bighas, though they cannot sell, lease, gift, will or mortgage it. The new rules propose that encroached government land will not be leased to anybody except landless locals after ejecting the encroachers.

With an eye on the Lok Sabha as well as the assembly elections, the Jammu and Kashmir government led by chief minister Omar Abdullah ensured that the 659 new administrative units advocated by the state cabinet sub-committee started rolling before the poll dates were announced. Reports suggested that the government has given a deadline of one month to set up the units.

The issue of formation of new administrative units had led to an increasingly strained relationship between the ruling alliance partners the Congress and the National Conference (NC). The coalition was on the brink of a split as Omar had threatened to resign.

State Congress leaders had been terming the move “politically motivated as it would benefit only the NC in the Kashmir Valley and damage the Congress’ political base in the Jammu region.”

The deadlock was finally resolved when the Congress-dominated Jammu region got more units than Kashmir. The entire move was called a poll plank by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

On February 8, the state cabinet approved extending provisions of the 73rd constitutional amendment to the state for empowering panchayati raj institutions, fulfilling a demand of the Congress. The latter was quick to claim victory after a cabinet meeting presided by Omar took the decision, with the Congress stating that its vice-president Rahul Gandhi had been vociferously raising the demand.

The 73rd amendment would give decision-making and financial powers to panchayats, besides autonomy in planning and execution of development works and utilisation of funds. The demand gained momentum after the panchayat elections were successfully conducted in the state in 2011, after three decades.

Sop: Setting up of 659 new administrative units
Vote bank eyed: Jammu voters for Congress; rural Kashmir electorate for National Conference
Financial impact: Recurring cost (annual): Rs 250 crore; total financial requirement: Rs 1,500 crore

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