Assam announces Rs 4,050 crore DBT schemes; Oppn cries foul as elections near


Sep 9, 2020

Guwahati: COVID 19 induced economic hardship appears to have no impact on Assam government’s kitty as the ruling BJP government has embarked on announcing a flurry of direct benefit cash transfer schemes to woo voters ahead of Assembly elections.

The state government has unveiled several financial incentive schemes in last fortnight amid pandemic which is a clear cut signal that the government has gone into an election mode. Elections are nearly seven months away.

Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who from the start has been leading with the fight against the COVID 19 has suddenly started donned the hat of a finance minister, announcing Direct Benefit Cash Transfer Schemes mainly targeted towards economically weaker sections of the society, tea tribes and unemployed youths.

Arundoi is one such scheme that will cost the state exchequer Rs 2,800 crore, and under which a woman member of each family will be made the beneficiary. Under the scheme, to be launched on October 2, every month up to the next five years, 17 lakh familiess, having an annual income of less than Rs. 2 lakh, will be provided Rs 830. The selection of the familybeneficiaries has begun from August 17.

Giving a detailed breakdown of the amount, Mr Sarma said Rs.400 has been allotted for the purchase of medicine, Rs.150 for vegetables, 50% off on 4 kgs of ration and 4 kgs of sugar. The scheme will be given to only 15,000 beneficiaries in constituencies with less than two lakh active voters, and to 17,000 beneficiaries in constituencies with more than two lakh active voters.

The BJP government has also re-launched an old scheme with the aim of providing self-employment to around 2 lakh youths of the state. Called Swami Vivekananda Assam YouthEmpowerment (SVAYEM), the scheme worth Rs 1000 crore, would provide Rs 50,000 each as seed money to selected youths to start business ventures.The scheme was part of the BJP-led government’s budget speech in 2017-18, but instead of benefitting 1 lakh youths planned it managed to cover only around 7,000 beneficiaries due to lack of adequate support from banks.

“We are launching the redesigned SVAYEM with a budget of Rs 1000 crore which will be spent in the next three months without any banking linkage. The 2 lakh beneficiaries would have to be part of self-help groups, joint liability groups, etc. before September 1,” Sarma had said. Moreover, 8 lakh tea garden workers in Assam will be given Rs. 3000 on 15th of November 15 this year.

This will be provided under the Chah Bagichar Dhan Purashkar Mela Scheme (Cash Award Scheme Tea GardenWorker). The Assam government will be releasing a total of Rs. 250crores. “While 7 lakh 15 thousand tea workers will surely avail the benefit as they already have the bank accounts,we are hoping that 8 lakh people could be benefited,” said Sarma while announcing the scheme.

The principal opposition party Congress is crying foul over the announcement of all such schemes in a situation where COVID 19 pandemic is threatening to go out of control. These schemes, according to them, are clearly directed towards buying voters loyalty. However, in a tight fiscal situation with nearly no collection of state taxes for last four months and the Centre deciding not to pay the pending GST dues to states from where the Assam government will manage resources is a million-dollar question.

Sarma while announcing all these schemes said that budgetary provisions were made for all these schemes, however, the revenue collection of the state has crestfallen due to COVID 19lockdown. In such a scenario how much of the promised schemes will reach to the end-user remains to be seen.