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Siddaramaiah’s announcement on 5 mega freebies turns out to be a damp squib

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah

Bengaluru: Akin to a fake magician promising to produce a rabbit out of the hat, but coming up with a limp rat, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s plans of implementing “five mega freebies” promised in the Congress party’s election manifesto, has turned out to be a cruel joke on the people of Karnataka.

After raising huge expectations among the public, Siddaramaiah, following a marathon Cabinet meeting, announced that his government had “decided to honour all five guarantees in toto” but they would be implemented in a phased manner after proper documentation and verification of the beneficiaries.

The inordinate delay in implementation was the first “dhokha” by the Congress leaders as they, including Rahul Gandhi, had categorically stated that a decision on all five guarantees “will be taken at the first Cabinet meeting” after the swearing-in ceremony (which happened on May 20), but a bigger “dhokha” was that all of them came with “conditions apply,” which were never ever mentioned by the Congress party.

False promises galore

Flanked by all his senior ministerial colleagues, Siddaramaiah said the free, unlimited bus ride for women all over the state under the “Naari Shakti” programme would come into force from June 11. The “Gruha Jyoti” scheme providing 200 units of free electricity would apply from the July 1 bill; Providing a monthly allowance of Rs 2,000 to every female head of the family under “Gruha Lakshmi” would commence on August 1 and the free supply of 10 kg of rice per head subject to a maximum of 50 kg per month under “Anna Bhagya” would begin from July 1.

The chief minister did not set a deadline for the implementation of the “Yuva Nidhi”, the unemployment dole programme, but said it would “apply only to the graduates and diploma holders passing out in the year 2022-23.”

People were shocked to hear that all the freebies come with several “conditions attached” which were never mentioned in either the manifesto or repeated advertisements in newspapers and on television or during the election speeches of top leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar.

Dhokha Number 1

Take, for instance, the free electricity programme. Having promised 200 units of free electricity to everyone, every month, the state government is now saying it will take the average consumption over the last 12 months and add 10% over it to decide on free supply. So, if a family was consuming 100 units per month, it will get 110 units free, but anything above that would attract normal charges. Now, everyone is asking: What happened to 200 units’ free supply?

The “normal charges” in Karnataka are: Rs 4.15 per unit for the first 50 units, Rs 5.60 per unit from 51 to 100 units, Rs 7.15 per unit from 101 to 200  and Rs 8.20 per unit beyond 200 units for domestic electricity consumers. For industrial use, the price goes up beyond Rs 12 per unit, which is the highest in the country.

Dhokha Number  2

Under the “Gruha Lakshmi” programme, every female head of the family was supposed to get Rs 2,000 per month for an unlimited period. Now, the government says, it will be limited to “BPL and APL card holders only.” Why this discrimination which was never specified earlier? Having unnecessarily raised a dispute over whether the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law was the “real” head of the family, now the government says, let the family decide who heads the family and provide her Aadhaar card, pan number and bank account either online or in person from June 15 to July 15 to avail the benefits of the  scheme that would come into force from August 15.

The questions being asked by the people now are: Why all these conditions and a new deadline which were never mentioned earlier? With so many fake BPL and APL cards in circulation, obtained through bribes or illegal immigration, is the scheme subject to more misuse than reaching the intended beneficiaries?

Dhokha Number 3

Under the “Anna Bhagya” programme, the government has announced that 10 kg of rice would be provided to every member of the family, subject to a maximum of five members. But, everyone knows that a family getting 50 kg of rice would normally require less than 5 kg, and would be forced to sell around 40-45 kg of “extra rice” at whatever price it can get in the open market and make some extra income. People are bound to ask: Who is responsible for such an irresponsible idea, which costs the state exchequer dearly?

Dhokha Number 4

Under the “Naari Shakti” programme, women of all ages, all income groups and all communities are free to travel anywhere in the state, any number of times without any restrictions. But, these travels are restricted, now the government says, only to the “red buses and express buses,” excluding luxury and AC buses. These exclusions were never part of the manifesto nor were they mentioned in the speeches of the leaders. During one of the interactions with the media during the elections, Siddaramaiah had said that “The free travel scheme applies to everyone including my wife, Mahadevappa’s (a minister in his cabinet) wife and Dayanand’s (an IPS officer) wife.”

Fearing a surge in women travelling either individually or in groups to various destinations, especially on pilgrimage, the government has said, “50% of the seats will be reserved for men!” (Who, of course, have to pay for bus tickets.) Furthermore, the government says the concession to women is limited to the state’s borders, but questions are being asked as to what happens when a group of 30 women decide to go to Mantralaya, which falls in Andhra Pradesh or to Shirdi, which falls in Maharashtra by a KSRTC bus?

Dhokha Number 5

The worst victims of the Five Guarantees’ scheme are the unemployed youth. Congress had promised Rs 3,000 per month to “graduates and post-graduates” and Rs 1,500 per month to the “diploma-holders” who have remained unemployed. Karnataka has one of the highest unemployment  figures in the country. According to the latest figures available, Karnataka’s Department of Unemployment and Training, in a state-wide survey in June 2021 had found that the state with a population of 6.61 crore had a total employed workforce of 24.11 lakh in the organised sector, 10.30 lakh in the public sector and 13.81 lakh in the private sector.

There is no clear estimate of the unemployed or under-employed persons in the organised sector while the bulk of the unemployed or the under-employed in the unorganised sector simply go below the radar.

The questions being asked of the Siddaramaiah government are: Why has it  not considered the unemployed youth in the unorganised sector for the doles and talked only about the unemployed among the graduates, post-graduates and the diploma-holders when over 70% of the unemployed youth come from lower educational and socio-economic backgrounds?

Therefore, the general belief is that the so-called unemployment allowance scheme is only an “eye-wash.”  It will not be long before the people of Karnataka realise that the Congress party snatched their precious votes based on false and dubious promises.