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Wanna know how much Shinde's sops will cost?
Parikshit Joshi in Mumbai | August 24, 2004 11:08 IST
It is not Christmas. But Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is in a benevolent mood and playing Santa Claus.
In his bid to woo rural as well as urban voters, the chief minister is doling out largesse even as the state reels under a severe financial crisis.
Shinde's tearing hurry in announcing welfare measures and sops to all sections of the society is quite understandable -- the Congress-NCP ruling alliance would be facing an acid test in early October when it takes on an upbeat Shiv Sena-BJP combine in the assembly polls.
The Congress-led Democratic Front coalition's announcements in the recent few days would put an additional burden on the state exchequer to the tune of Rs 2,500 crore.
This comes at a time when the state's debt has reached a staggering Rs 93,000 crore.
The mounting debt does not perturb the chief minister, who is confident about the government implementing all the welfare measures announced.
"We have got enough money and all the schemes announced by the DF combine will be implemented," he asserts.
But the opposition is seeing red. "All these pre-poll promises cannot be implemented. Where is the budgetary allocation?" questions opposition leader Narayan Rane.
Shinde admits that every government ahead of polls takes populist decisions. He, however, hastens to add that all the announcements made by his government were not made with an eye on the forthcoming election.
"Our efforts are to ameliorate conditions of farmers, labourers, adivasis as well as urban population," says the chief minister.
But Rane is quick to question what the government was doing all these years. "The DF was in power for last five years but what they did in the initial four-and-half-year rule," the former chief minister points out.
The recent 'populist' announcments by the Congress-NCP ruling combine include providing free power to farmers (costing Rs 1500 crore annually), waiving interest on loans taken by farmers (Rs 345 crore), drought relief to farmers (Rs 800 crore), Rs 222 crore special package for tribal belt of Nandurbar, Rs 30 crore for beautification of Marine Drive, Rs 10 crore loan waiver for handloom co-operatives.
Besides, the ruling coalition has announced various measures for people staying in old buildings in the city and waiver of property tax to those staying in chawls in the textile mill premises.
Asked whether sops for the farmers were over, Shinde says, "We may take some more decisions as the farmers are reeling under severe drought conditions in parts of the state for last five years."
But on providing free power to farmers, former senior bureaucrat and an energy expert Madhav Godbole said, "The announcement will put burden on other electricity consumers and it will create hurdles in getting loans from the World Bank."
The former IAS officer also points out that only affluent farmers will be benefitted by the government's announcement of free power.
Godbole also claims that regional imbalance is likely to go up as only farmers from Western Maharashtra will benefit from the decision. The sugar-rich Western Maharshtra has nearly 15 lakh farmers compared to Vidarbha's nearly 3.4 lakh and around four lakh from Marathwada, Godbole says in support of his argument.
BJP state unit chief Gopinath Munde terms government's announcements as a 'pre-poll exercise' and claims, "It is futile. People know all these gimmicks. The government did nothing for last four and half years but has started making announcement on the eve of the elections."
The opposition claims that generally a government resolution is released at least one month after the Cabinet decision is taken. "How can the government implement its decisions with barely a few days for code of conduct to be enforced," the Sena-BJP leaders wonder.
But Shinde assures that all the decisions taken will be implemented.
Asked about government announcing sops, the state chief electoral officer U P S Madan says, "As long as code of conduct is not enforced, the government can take any number of decisions."
But with a slew of decisions (nearly 35 in recent days), the state's bureaucracy has been asked to pull up its socks and burn midnight oil to implement them, sources in Mantralaya say.
More reports from Maharashtra
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