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Poll carrots in Kerala

With assembly polls round the corner, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has no time to waste, reports Ramesh Babu.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2006 17:24 IST

Ommen Chandy is in a hurry. With assembly elections round the corner and a resurgent Left to tackle, the chief minister has no time to waste. So these days, he goes around with a rare zeal for populism and announces a sop a day -- free lunch and a boiled egg for nursery students, easy installments and loan waiver for farmers, a cut in power bills....

Chandy seems to be enjoying it, but his finance mangers squirmed when he recently declared `Watch out for more goodies'. The state is neckdeep in debts and can't afford these sops.

On Friday, the government reduced power tariff by 20 paise a unit. While clearing the proposal, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission asked the government to bear the losses. That's Rs 150 crore a year.

Another sop is a six-month ban on debt recovery from farmers and a one-time settlement of agricultural loans. For this, the government needs Rs 138 crore.

The new free-meal scheme, which covers 1,466 schools, will draw another fat bill.

The Opposition is seeing red. It is easy to be part of the populist bandwagon, but the state exchequer will have to be taken care of, say Left leaders.

"When this government assumed power five years ago, the state had a debt of Rs 23,000 crore. Now, it has crossed Rs 50,000 crore," complained CPM MLA Thomas Issac.

But the CM is hardly worried. "Money is not a problem," he keeps chanting. "When Antony assumed power four-and-a half years ago, Indian Air lines had even refused to give him an air ticket to Delhi. It's not the same now," he said.

"Where is the populism? We received enough rain this year, so we thought of reducing power tariff. Antony announced the package for farmers. I am just implementing some schemes that are due," he said.

That said, he is back to cutting ribbons and breaking coconuts.. all that till his next sop -- subsidised rice for BPL families.

First Published: Jan 07, 2006 17:24 IST