The implementation of the five ‘guarantees’ announced by the Congress may cost the state exchequer an estimated Rs 50,000 crore annually.
Key party leaders who spoke about the cost of the welfare measures insisted that one could not call them ”freebies” as they were tools of empowerment.
The ‘guarantees’ found resonance with voters of the May 10 Assembly elections, particularly with women, and played a key role in the party’s resounding victory, political analysts noted. The Congress bagged 135 seats in the 224-member Assembly, and ousted the BJP from power, with the erstwhile ruling party winning in just 66 constituencies, while the Janata Dal (Secular) managed to get only 19 seats.
Some BJP leaders have alleged that implementation of the ‘guarantees’ would push the State into financial bankruptcy, and have also claimed that the Congress would not honour its pre-poll promises fully. During campaigning, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders had repeatedly said that if voted to power, the party’s government in its maiden Cabinet meeting on the first day of assuming power would pass orders approving the ‘guarantees’ to facilitate their swift implementation.
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The five schemes that the Congress guaranteed it would implement are ‘Gruha Jyothi’ — to provide 200 units electricity free to every household; ‘Gruha Lakshmi’ — to grant Rs 2,000 to every woman head of a family; ‘Anna Bhagya’ — to distribute 10 kg rice to every member of BPL families every month; ‘Yuva Nidhi’ — to sanction Rs 3,000 dole to unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 to unemployed diploma holders for two years (in the 18-25 age-group); and ‘Shakti’ — to enable free travel for women across Karnataka in state buses.
In an interview with PTI on Wednesday, vice chairman of the Congress manifesto drafting committee Professor K E Radhakrishna said the implementation of the five guarantee schemes will not cost more than Rs 50,000 crore annually. ”I can authoritatively say that all these guarantee schemes put together will not be more than Rs 50,000 crore,” he said.
Radhakrishna, who has the distinction of drafting five manifestos for the Congress, said even some of the Congress leaders have the perception that these schemes cannot be implemented. ”Some of our leaders have that perception but we are very sure because I have worked out the financial implications. It is not more than Rs 50,000 crore. Even Rs 50,000 crore is not a charity. It’s empowerment,” he said.
Explaining the way these schemes will be implemented, the educationist noted that the total budget of Karnataka government is about Rs three lakh crore. At least 60 per cent of revenue of any good economy is spent on sustained development, Radhakrishna said, adding that it goes to paying salary of government employees and to implement empowerment programmes.
”Revenue moves capital, capital moves revenue. So, Rs 1.50 lakh crore of the Rs three lakh crore budget has to be spent. If that does not happen, then we will not have funds to spend another Rs 1.5 lakh crore. They are related to each other,” he explained. Out of five guarantees, ‘Anna Bhagya’ is an existing scheme, and the new promise is an extension, he added.
”We were giving seven kg of rice. BJP reduced it to five kg. Now again we want to make it 10 kg. We are giving rice and millets. This will encourage its cultivation and production,” the Congress leader pointed out.
Regarding ‘Gruha Jyothi’, Radhakrishna said Karnataka is a power surplus state and is selling electricity to other states. According to him, the Congress in its manifesto has promised to set up huge solar parks of 5,000 megawatt capacity. It has also promised to set up a small solar cluster in each village.
”These clusters will generate employment to people in the village and make the villages self-sufficient in terms of electricity. We are going to increase power generation, which will eventually generate employment opportunities,” Radhakrishna explained.
The Rs 2,000 guarantee under ‘Gruha Lakshmi’ is not for all women heads of families, he clarified. ”This is only for the Below Poverty Line families. We will not give to rich people. This scheme is only for empowering poor people,” the Congress leader said.
Regarding ‘Yuva Nidhi’, he said world-over unemployment allowance is given in many countries. ”Whether our degree education is relevant for a job is a larger issue, but as of today the graduates are in a helpless condition,” Radhakrishna pointed out. As part of the scheme, the government is planning to set up a large employment exchange, he said.
”We are going to coordinate with ‘Bharat Jogo Udyoga Kendra’ (Bharat Jodo Employment Centre) where we will take private industries on board,” he explained. The government will also tie up with the Rajiv Gandhi Skill Development Corporation to train and skill the graduates and make them employable by the industries, Radhakrishna said. Talking about the ‘Shakti’ scheme of free bus rides for women, he said already students are getting free passes to travel to their college from their house. ”Not every woman travels in the buses. Only those who are not rich travel in buses. It’s (the free travel guarantee) will empower garment workers, domestic servants, ‘pourakarmikas’ and women engaged in menial jobs,” he said.
”There will be no conditions. We will be very happy if every woman travels. It will reduce pollution,” Radhakrishna quipped. He said these five schemes are meant only to empower people and they are not freebies. Recalling the proverb ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime’, the educationist pointed out, ”But we believe that to catch the fish, that hand that catches the fish should have some minimal strength. That is the empowerment we do.”