The Election Commission stumped the UPA government with a sudden poll announcement on Wednesday. The scheduled Cabinet meeting to announce more sops was cancelled. And several ministers went in a tizzy to announce last minute bonanza.
Sources revealed that the central government was expecting poll announcement on Thursday. But the EC advanced the announcement, just hours after the Prime Minister's return from Mayanmar and thus prevented the Cabinet to announce any further sops.
This however, didn’t deter the government, who went on with few announcements just before the model code of conduct came into force. The Youth Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Jitendra Singh early morning launched three projects including swimming polls worth Rs 9.07 crore in three government stadiums in Delhi, the national cycling academy at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex and a community connect scheme to turn three city stadiums into sports-cum-recreation centres to let local people use them for recreation and overall health and fitness.
For the past few days, the UPA government had kept its officials on their toes, asking them to clear a record number of backlog schemes and programmes.
The Rural Development Ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh also beat the model code of conduct by raising wages in the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Programme by 4 to 18 per cent. The revision gives the labourer in Haryana the highest Rs 236 a day, while the lowest is Rs 153 in Meghalaya. The increase is 18 per cent in Kerala and 4 per cent in Maharashtra.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways headed by Oscar Fernandes also stepped on Tuesday evening, soon after the Election Commission issued invitations to media persons for the press conference. Fernandes promised financial relief in terms of payment of premium to the government to the private contractors of the road projects to stop them from walking out without completing the jobs in hand.
They can now stagger the payment of premium to the the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for build-operate-transfer projects. The relief will stop the builders' walkouts and ease the way for big-ticket road projects ahead of the elections. The GMR was the first to threaten to walk out of the 555km Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway in December 2012. Another company GVK had threatened to dump a 330km highway in Madhya Pradesh connecting Shivpuri to Dewas.
Companies bag lucrative contracts — long and wide roads with potentially heavy traffic that promises a sizeable toll collection — on the strength of the premium they offer the government to be paid over 20 to 25 years. The relief frees them from having to pay the agreed amount every year by paying less in the initial years. It will help the builders involved in at least 48 road projects across the country.
The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry was not left behind. It dusted out a decision to set up Dr Ambedkar International Centre for research, oriental and Buddhist studies and a public library at a cost of Rs 200 crore at Janpath.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs also announced a series of schemes and programmes for the betterment of the minorities while the Home Ministry also came out with a gazette notification on Wednesday reversing the possession of 123 Wakf properties in Delhi to the Delhi Wakf Board.
Meanwhile, the Goa's Congress MP Shantaram Naik, who is also head of parliament standing committee on law lamented that the Election Commission has ignored the recommendation his parliamentary panel to enforce the model code of conduct from the date of notification and not from the date of announcement of the poll schedule.
He said the Parliamentary panel's considered view was that the development works, be they of the Centre or the state governments, should not suffer between the period of announcement of the poll schedule and actual notification, more particularly when elections are held in multiple phases. He pointed out that all development works will come to a standstill for the next 75 days just because of the poll announcement made on Wednesday.
Naik said the commission better concentrate on putting curbs on the distribution of freebies during elections, curtail the flow of black money and remove all the ambiguities in the rules regarding poll expenditure, instead of the new model code requiring the parties to show the ways and means to meet the financial requirements of any promises they make in the election manifestos.
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