BJP Tries to Mop up Votes with Sops

Shimla, Jul 20 (IANS): Senior Congress leader and five-time former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh's fears have come true. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have gone populist with a vengeance ahead of the assembly polls due in December.

The fund-starved BJP government, which is already reeling under the ever-swelling wage bill, announced a fat financial bonanza Wednesday to woo its employees ahead of the assembly polls.

With over 1.2 million voters, the serving and retired employees and their families, constitute a sizable chunk of the electorate in the state.

At a meeting with the state employees joint consultative committee, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal announced that the government would accept the long-pending demand of time scale with promotion after four, nine and 14 years of service.

It will benefit 337,000 regular, contractual, part-time and daily wage employees of different departments, boards and corporations.

Likewise, the tribal allowance has been raised from Rs.200 to Rs.300 per month, which will benefit about 35,000 employees. One special increment was given to class IV on completion of 20 years of service. This will benefit over 80,000 employees.

Announcing the incentives, Dhumal said the government has provided financial benefits worth Rs.6,296.84 crore to the employees in the past four-and-a-half years.

"We have paid the entire arrears on account of the pay revision," he added.

Virbhadra Singh, who is head of the Congress campaign committee, had only last week demanded that the Election Commission enforce its code of conduct as the government was on a sop-offering spree in the fag end of its tenure.

"The government is announcing populist schemes to woo the voters. The Election Commission should enforce the code of conduct as I fear that the ruling BJP can come out with populist policies to influence the voters," he told reporters in Solan town.

Reacting to Virbhadra Singh's assertions, BJP state president Satpal Satti termed his statements as a reflection of frustration being faced by him after quitting the union cabinet.

"Imposition of the election code of conduct and deciding the poll dates is the prerogative of the Election Commission. The government is going to the public with its achievements... what is wrong in this?" Satti told IANS.

Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath, during his one-day visit to Shimla July 12, said the commission was keeping a close watch on all the announcements being made by the government.

The opposition Congress had lodged a complaint with the Election Commission regarding the government's move to go for populist policies and measures that can influence the voters ahead of the polls.

"Even before the model code of conduct comes into force, the Election Commission generally keeps watch on actions of the government and its officers ahead of the polls," Sampath told reporters here.

"The commission is keeping watch on all the announcements even now, though action will be taken only after the model code of conduct comes into force," he added.

Official sources said close to half the annual budget of the debt-ridden state was being spent on its serving and retired employees.

According to the 2012-13 budget, out of the total expenditure of Rs.20,243.92 crore, the spending on salaries and pension is Rs.9,069.81 crore.

This means about 45 percent of the total budget is meant for just 260,000 employees and 117,000 pensioners.

Though elections to the 68-member assembly are due in December, they are likely to be held in October.


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