Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced a slew of sops over the past few months, with an eye on elections later this year.
The sops, government officials estimate, will cost around ₹20,000 crore a year. The Congress has claimed that these sops will leave the state “bankrupt” by the time election results are announced in December this year. Madhya Pradesh has around ₹3 lakh crore of debt on its books.
For instance, the state has offered ₹1,000 per month to every woman from a poor family, ₹25,000 for girl students to pursue higher education, a ₹400 hike in monthly pension to the elderly and a ₹8,000 per month internship for some young people.
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The CM has also relaunched the Sambhal Scheme 2.0 for the unorganized sector that provides for free electricity, waives unpaid electricity bills and offers ₹5,000 for cremation. Before the 2018 assembly polls, Chouhan launched the Sambal Scheme, which was scrapped by the Congress government led by Kamal Nath in 2019.
State governments tend to announce sops to woo voters before the assembly elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been critical of freebies , terming them “revdi”, a kind of sweetmeat popular in parts of north India, triggering a debate whether the sops really empower deprived sections. Political parties including the Aam Aadmi Party have termed pre-poll sops as a way to financially empower deprived sections of the society.
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On January 29, Chouhan announced the Ladli Behna Scheme of ₹1,000 per month for non-income tax payee women with a financial burden of ₹12,000 crore per annum, targeting an estimated 12 million women. State government officials added that depending on demand, the allocation for this scheme could be increased.
On January 6, he announced Mukhyamantri Land Rights Scheme” to provide free plots worth ₹5,000 crore to landless people. In the first part, 35,000 plots worth ₹400 crore were distributed to landless people in Tikamgarh and Singrauli in mid-January.
To beat rising building costs, the state mining department is coming up with a scheme to provide free sand to beneficiaries of the PM Housing Scheme. “The cost of this scheme is yet to be evaluated,” said a senior officer of the mining department who asked not to be named
In November last year, the government announced a ₹8,000 a month internship for 4600 young people for six months.
And in the past three months, Chouhan has reintroduced three schemes –Sambal 2.0, Ladli Laxmi 2.0 and MukhyaMantri Teerth Darshan Scheme.
The three schemes, originally launched in 2018, helped the BJP cross the 100-seat mark in the 230-member assembly in the last election, analysts said. To be sure, it was the Congress that formed the government, but following the resignation of 22 of its legislators in early 2020, Chouhan returned to power. Barring those 15 months, the BJP has been in power in the state since 2003.
Under Sambal 2.0, a family gets ₹5,000 for funerals, ₹2 lakh as life and ₹4 lakh as accident insurance and disability assistance up to ₹2 lakh. “The Sambal scheme is to provide financial assistance from birth till death of labourers of the unorganised sector,” said a labour department official who asked not to be named. The government expects to cover 15 million workers under this scheme which will cost over ₹700 crore.
According to an estimate by the state’s finance department , the sops will put an additional burden of close to ₹20,000 crore on the state annually. “The exact numbers would be shared in the budget to be presented later this month,” a finance department official said, asking not to be named.
“Instead of providing employment opportunities, the state government is providing freebies. On one side, the state government is selling its assets for generating revenue and on the other, these freebies are being given. We understand that giving money to the deprived is important for development of certain sectors but it shouldn’t be done by increasing state debt,” said Rakesh Diwan, a social sector expert.
Jayantilal Bhandari, a finance expert pointed out that the debt availed by the state is within prescribed limits. “Most of the loans were taken for infrastructure development so it won’t leave much impact on the economy,” he added. According to him, some of the schemes, such as the one focused on women and the internships will boost the economy by empowering people.
Former minister and Congress MLA PC Sharma said that the BJP, which has been critical of freebies, has announced many in the state because it “ has realised that they won’t “ win the election.
A BJP spokesperson said the schemes will empower farmers and women. “Like farmers, we are also empowering women. We are providing ₹10,000 to farmers under Kisan Samman Nidhi and will provide ₹12000 annually to women under Ladli Behna scheme. Congress leaders made fake promises to voters to come in power and that’s why they made an excuse of bankruptcy. MP is one of the fastest growing states (in India),” said Rajneesh Agrawal, BJP spokesperson.