Panchayat Election schedule has been announced. 2.79 crore rural voters would exercise their choice and elect 91,913 Ward Members, 6,794 Sarpanches, 6,793 Panchayat Samiti Members and 853 Zilla Parishad members. Detailed guidelines for a Covid-safe election have been issued. There would be no road shows, padayatra, cycle/bike/vehicle rally or procession. No physical rally of political parties or probable candidates or any other group related to election will be allowed. Only door-to-door campaign with participation of maximum five people including the candidate is allowed. The poll panel has also advised the political parties and candidates to conduct their campaigns as much as possible through digital, virtual, media platforms and mobile-based modes. Model code of conduct has already come into effect and it will remain in force till the completion of counting of votes i.e. February 28.
While the country is in the grip of revival of Covid cases, and Odisha being no exception, there was speculation on whether the election would be deferred. Hon’ble High Court however rejected a prayer for deferring the Election.
Government kept on showering their favours to different segments of the voters ranging from Anganwadi workers to overaged aspirants for government jobs. Some favours costing hundreds of crores of rupees to the state exchequer kept rolling out of Naveen Government’s gift box without even a demand for it. One such favour merits a discussion.
Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana is a state plan scheme introduced in 2014 to give effect to the state government’s commitment to provide pucca houses to all the rural households living in kutcha houses. The detailed government guidelines on the subject issued in 2017 superseding earlier instructions make it clear that the expected life of the structure must be a minimum of thirty years. Strangely, however, the government decided to give Rs 3000 to beneficiaries to repair their houses allotted to them under the Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana. No one had asked for it; nor was it known why Rs 3000 would be the right amount. Government also announced that those who have not yet availed houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) would get Rs 5000 to carry out repairs of the houses. Nearly 30 lakh people would benefit from the announcement. Around Rs 1,444 crore will be spent in this regard. All the money will be credited to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries directly.
Some of the decisions taken immediately before the Election announcement transcend logic. One case is about making overaged aspirants eligible for government jobs. In some cases, a 53-year-old person is now eligible for a government job. It was clarified that since the recruitment process got held up for two years due to the unprecedented situation arising out of the pandemic, age relaxation was considered necessary. But the 5-years age relaxation to compensate recruitment held up for two years is difficult to understand. That this concession is valid for only three years makes it look really clumsy.
The last session of the Legislative Assembly closed days before the schedule. The Chief Minister did not attend the Assembly though he appeared in the Kalinga Stadium for a Sports event and soon after the sine die adjournment of the Assembly, chose to visit a few districts to distribute the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) smart cards to beneficiaries.
The Naveen era has been in the state for over two decades. The party led by Naveen Patnaik has fought many elections and has won decisively. Against this backdrop, why has the run up to the present Panchayat Election been marked by a tsunami of financial concessions and favours costing the government thousands of crores of rupees, raises the issue of political morality – enticing voters through government largesse and diverting huge chunks of government resource for winning elections.
A developed State after 22 years of rule by Naveen Patnaik would have been an appropriate legacy; but unfortunately even now, the state government has identified as many as 96.5 lakh families (out of a total of 97.5 lakh families in the state) under the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana as economically vulnerable families and about 55 lakh families are getting one rupee rice for being poor. Reckless spending of taxpayers’ money on freebies could win elections, but does not bring in holistic development of the state. At this juncture of the Naveen era, this conventional political strategy is not what statesmanship is about.
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