FLOOD OF FREE­BIES IN ODISHA

The New Indian Express - - EDITORIAL -

The scheme-a-day jug­ger­naut is clearly on the roll in Odisha. As the race to the elec­tions starts, free­bies are flow­ing. In the last three days, the state gov­ern­ment has un­veiled as many schemes—from LED bulb dis­tri­bu­tion to a hike in hon­o­rar­ium for 1.45 lakh an­gan­wadi work­ers. When mass ap­pease­ment is the mantra of the po­lit­i­cal class and farm loan waiver schemes are an­nounced within hours of gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion in In­dia, why should the Naveen Pat­naik gov­ern­ment be ex­pected to ex­er­cise re­straint? Eco­nom­ics be damned, there is an elec­tion to be won, af­ter all! Most such schemes— their in­ten­tions not­with­stand­ing—are hurt­ing the state’s econ­omy.

Last month’s Krushak As­sis­tance for Liveli­hood and In­come Aug­men­ta­tion, es­ti­mated to cost `10,180 crore over three years, re­quired the gov­ern­ment to source `1,000 crore from its con­tin­gency fund (CF) to meet the cur­rent fiscal’s pro­vi­sion­ing. Now an or­di­nance is needed to en­hance the cor­pus of CF so that ex­i­gen­cies can be met. Sim­i­larly, the hikes for an­gan­wadi work­ers would cost `80 crore an­nu­ally. Be­sides dol­ing out fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to grad­u­ate and PG stu­dents from un­der­priv­i­leged sec­tions, the state has al­ready of­fered in­ter­est­free loans and seed money to 15 lakh new women self-help groups and much more.

All these only add up to huge and re­cur­ring costs. The 15th Fi­nance Com­mis­sion re­cently lauded the gov­ern­ment for its fiscal man­age­ment but was cor­rect in point­ing out that Odisha’s progress in agri­cul­ture, health and ed­u­ca­tion con­tinue to be way below the na­tional bench­mark. That’s where the real prob­lem of pop­ulism lies: It does not trans­form the lives of the peo­ple it tar­gets. The Com­mis­sion cau­tioned that de­spite high growth rate, the state’s eco­nomic sce­nario re­mains sig­nif­i­cantly volatile and in­con­sis­tent. This must be heeded. While the need for fiscal pru­dence can­not be overem­pha­sised, his­tory would judge the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment for run­ning up a debt of over `90,000 crore in 19 years. That is not some­thing Naveen would want.

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