Last month, when Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced as a “rakhi gift” for women, he wasn’t the only leader seen as having announced a scheme with an eye on voters in a poll-bound state.
Promises of welfare schemes and “freebies” are reaching a crescendo as five states near assembly polls. Be it by BJP leaders – despite Prime Minister Narendra – or by the Congress.
But before you get all riled up with the term “freebies”, let’s take a detour to outline a nuance.
While “freebies” are often seen as short-term gratifications, welfare schemes are supposed to provide long-term benefits. Some say it’s unethical to use freebies as election bait, but others claim they are good as long as they benefit the public. And the lines often blur. Remember the chatter around AIADMK’s Jayalalitha’s mixer-grinders or AAP’s free electricity subsidy? You can read our ultimate freebie by economist Vivek Kaul.
Now, back to our tale of five states, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, where assembly polls are likely to be held this year.
No such scheme has been announced in Mizoram even as the parties in power in the four remaining states have collectively announced a slew of welfare schemes amounting to a total Rs 37,000 crore so far: be it through expansions of existing schemes in pre-poll budgets or by introducing or promising new ones.
Telangana tops the list of spenders. Chhattisgarh is at the bottom.
Let’s take a look.
Women in focus in Madhya Pradesh
Since January, the government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh has unveiled a series of schemes, with a focus on the state’s women and youth voters.
The Ladli Behna scheme has garnered considerable attention among these initiatives, with the state government reportedly disbursing Rs 3,628.85 crore so far with the total budgetary allocation for this programme in the current year at a staggering Rs 8,000 crore.
This is just one of several schemes aimed at women in a state where women voters outnumber men in at least 18 of the 230 assembly seats. Of the total 5.4 crore voters, 2.6 crore are women.
The Chouhan government has also announced free scooters to class 12 girl toppers and a vocational training programme for youths with a stipend. The government has allocated Rs 135 crore and Rs 1,000 crore, respectively, for these initiatives in this year’s budget.
In January, Chouhan also launched the Mukhyamantri Land Rights Scheme, aimed at providing free plots worth Rs 5,000 crore to landless families. In the initial phase, 35,000 plots valued at Rs 400 crore were distributed in Tikamgarh and Singrauli.
Chouhan has also reintroduced two schemes – Sambal 2.0 and Ladli Laxmi 2.0. Under Sambal 2.0, the government offers financial assistance to labourers in the unorganised sector, with an allocation of Rs 600 crore in this year’s state budget. For the scheme, which provides two installments totalling Rs 25,000 to every student to support their graduation, the state budget has allocated a total of Rs 929 crore.
The state has spent Rs 11,064 crore on such initiatives so far.
Phones, LPG cylinders and electricity in Rajasthan
In neighbouring Rajasthan, where the Congress holds power, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's campaign is heavily reliant on an array of welfare schemes, ranging from free mobile phones to subsidies on LPG and electricity. Many of these initiatives were announced in the past few months, with a Rs 12,700 crore burden on the state exchequer.
Free electricity and LPG cylinder subsidies alone would cost the treasury a substantial Rs 8,500 crore annually.
According to the state government's budget statement, the free electricity scheme is estimated at Rs 7,000 crore, while the LPG subsidy accounts for Rs 1,500 crore. Free mobile phones to women come with a price tag of Rs 1,200 crore while Rs 3,000 crore is allocated for the Chief Minister's Nishulk Annapurna food packet yojana, launched in May.
Additionally, the state budget set aside Rs 100 crore for the Yuva Udham Yojana, aimed at providing financial support to educated entrepreneurs in establishing their businesses.
Gehlot has also announced an increase in the number of scooters provided to meritorious girl students under the Kalibai Bhil Medhavi Chhatra Scooty Yojana and Devnarayan Scooty Yojana, from 20,000 to 30,000. In the financial year 2022-23, the state government had allocated over Rs 44 crore and Rs 11 crore, respectively, for these two schemes.
With the expanded scope of beneficiaries in the latest budget, if all eligible girl students apply for e-scooters, the state government is expected to spend a significant Rs 390 crore.
Telangana tops the list with highest outlay
Since coming to power in 2014, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government, led by K Chandrasekhar Rao, has rolled out an array of freebies and welfare schemes in Telangana. These include financial assistance to farmers through Rythu Bandhu to monetary support to mothers and newborns through the KCR kit, which contains 16 essential items after the delivery of a child.
The government has announced 2-BHK houses for the underprivileged, and financial support for brides from EWS families through Shaadi Mubarak and Kalyan Lakshmi schemes.
The Dalit Bandhu scheme offers financial support of Rs 10 lakh to Scheduled Caste families to set up businesses, while the Asara pension programme safeguards the most vulnerable segments, including the disabled, the elderly and those with HIV.
In the 2023-24 budget, flagship efforts such as Rythu Bandhu, Dalit Bandhu, and the 2BHK housing initiative received substantial allocations of Rs 15,075 crore, Rs 17,700 crore, and Rs 7,890 crore, respectively. Kalyana Lakshmi and Shadi Mubarak were allotted Rs 3,210 crore. Additionally, Rs 12,000 crore was earmarked for pension disbursements, while Rs 6,385.20 crore was set aside for farmers’ debt relief.
Moreover, the state government has introduced three new schemes in this election year to appeal to women voters and minority communities. It has allocated Rs 400 crore to provide Rs 1 lakh financial assistance to families from , with an annual income less than Rs 2 lakh in rural areas. Another Rs 400 crore is dedicated to aiding beneficiaries from backward classes working as traditional artisans.
One of the most notable announcements is the Gruha Laxmi scheme, which envisions a financial grant of Rs 3 lakh to poor individuals who own a piece of land but cannot afford to build a house. This initiative, distinct from the existing 2-BHK housing scheme, commands an allocation of Rs 12,000 crore in the state budget.
In Telangana, around 55 percent of the population makes a living from agriculture. The state also has a sizable Dalit population, with 19 of the 119 assembly seats reserved for SCs. account for 12.5 percent of the state electorate and have influence over 30 assembly constituencies. Women comprise nearly half of Telangana’s electorate.
Chhattisgarh’s modest pre-election spending
Among the four states, Chhattisgarh trails with a modest expenditure of Rs 638 crore on new schemes ahead of the assembly elections. A significant portion of this spending is allocated to the unemployment allowance programme, providing Rs 2,500 per month to youngsters with a budgetary allocation of Rs 250 crore.
Additionally, the state government has earmarked Rs 100 crore for its new housing scheme, Gramin Awas Nyay Yojana (Rural Housing Nyay Scheme). This is an ostensible response to about the state government falling short of expectations under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G).
In its 2022-23 budget, the Chhattisgarh government also raised the grant under the Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000, incurring an expense of Rs 89 crore for the state exchequer. Furthermore, the monthly honorarium for anganwadi workers and assistants saw an increase from Rs 6,500 and Rs 3,250 to Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000, respectively. A budget provision of Rs 250 crore has been made to accommodate these changes.
Mizoram an outlier?
Amidst the cacophony of electoral promises, Mizoram stands apart with no such announcement ahead of polls. The MNF has been in power, with Chief Minister Zoramthanga eyeing a fourth term in office.
Though the reasons behind the lack of such an announcement in the state were not immediately clear, it’s essential to understand that each state, with its unique challenges and voter base, has its distinct welfare focus powered by fiscal health.
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