The schedule for the Panchayat elections has been announced. 2.79 crore of rural voters would exercise their choice and elect 91,913 parish members, 6,794 Sarpanches, 6,793 Panchayat Samiti members and 853 Zilla Parishad members. Detailed guidelines for a secure election against Covid have been published. There would be no road show, padayatra, bike / bike / vehicle rally or procession. No physical gathering of political parties or likely candidates or any other election-related group will be permitted. Only a door-to-door campaign with the participation of a maximum of five people, including the candidate, is allowed. The electoral panel also advised political parties and candidates to run their campaigns as much as possible through digital, virtual, media platforms and mobile modes. The model code of conduct has already entered into force and will remain in force until the end of the vote count, i.e. on February 28.
As the country is in the throes of an upturn in Covid cases, and Odisha is no exception, speculation has been raised as to whether the elections will be postponed. Hon’ble High Court, however, rejected a request to postpone the election.
The government continued to extend its favors to different segments of voters, ranging from Anganwadi workers to overwhelmed aspirants to government jobs. Some favors costing the treasury hundreds of crore rupees kept coming out of the Naveen government gift box without even asking. Such a favor deserves discussion.
Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana is a state plan introduced in 2014 to give effect to the state government’s commitment to provide pucca houses to all rural households living in kutcha houses. The detailed government guidelines on the subject published in 2017 and replacing previous instructions make it clear that the expected life of the structure must be at least thirty years. Oddly, however, the government decided to give Rs 3000 to the beneficiaries to repair their houses which had been allocated to them under the Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana. No one had asked for it; it was also not known why Rs 3000 would be the right amount. The government also announced that those who have not yet rented houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) would get 5,000 rupees to carry out the house repairs. Almost 30 lakh people would benefit from the announcement. About Rs 1,444 crore will be spent in this regard. All money will be credited directly to beneficiary bank accounts.
Some of the decisions made just before the election was announced transcend logic. One case concerns the eligibility of overwhelmed aspirants for government jobs. In some cases, a 53-year-old is now eligible for a job in the public service. It was clarified that since the recruitment process has been delayed for two years due to the unprecedented situation resulting from the pandemic, a relaxation of the age was deemed necessary. But relaxing the age of 5 to compensate for a recruitment delayed by two years is hard to understand. That this concession is only valid for three years makes it really awkward.
The last session of the Legislative Assembly closed a few days ahead of schedule. The Chief Minister did not attend the Assembly although he appeared at Kalinga Stadium for a sporting event and shortly after the Assembly adjourned sine die, he chose to visit a few districts to distribute Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) smart cards to beneficiaries. .
The Naveen era has been around for over two decades. The party led by Naveen Patnaik participated in many elections and won a decisive victory. In this context, why has the current race for the Panchayat election been marked by a tsunami of concessions and financial favors costing the government thousands of crore rupees, raises the question of political morality – attracting voters through government largesse and diverting huge chunks of government resources to win elections.
A state developed after 22 years of Naveen Patnaik’s rule would have been a fitting legacy; but unfortunately even now the state government has identified up to 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 around 55 lakh families receive a rupee of rice for being poor. Reckless spending of taxpayer money on gifts could win an election, but does not lead to holistic development of the state. At this point in the Naveen era, this conventional political strategy is not what the statesman is.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. Opinions expressed are those of the author and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or opinions. OTV assumes no responsibility in this regard. The author can be contacted at [email protected] .com)
More from the author: Why do Odisha’s candidates struggle to qualify for public service?