By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, October 15, 2023: Politicians usually promise the moon. And they have ready goodies for everyone. The parties compete each other in announcing freebies and doles ahead of the polls. They virtually announce these sops just a month or a fortnight before the poll schedule is announced.

This is evident from the fact that the BJP, Congress and other parties in poll-bound Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana and Mizoram were virtually competing in announcing the sops knowing very well that it will be well-nigh impossible for those who win polls to either implement these sops or stop this practice.

These sops more often than not cripple states’ finances and vitiate free and fair polls and yet, there seems to be concerted effort to put an end to this practice. Offering poll sops is legally a legitimate activity and even the Supreme Court could not abolish it. Last week, the Apex Court sought responses from poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on a plea alleging pre-election freebies were being distributed out of state revenue at a time when the states were reeling under huge debt.

The Election Commission (EC) had recently brought out a proforma for parties and states to explain how and when the promises made by them in their poll manifesto will be implemented. Parties and state were asked about the debt to GDP ratio, interest payment to total revenue and whether they will breach the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) targets. The governments were also asked whether they will reduce some of the schemes to implement what has been promised in the manifesto, and whether there will be an extra burden of tax on the people.

Ironically, after the formation of the government the winning party/alliance never comes up with a time frame to implement all the freebies nor do they place the report card of promises implemented towards the end of the tenure of the government. There are some exceptions, however. Odisha based Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by chief minister Naveen Patnaik has taken honest attempt to fulfill poll promises. |For instance, in line with his promise to nominate at least one-third women candidates for the elections, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had picked 7 women to contest from as many seats out of the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2019 polls.

Similarly, after the massive victory in the last Assembly poll, Naveen reviewed the implementation of promises in the party manifest poll. The BJD ruled government had committed to convert all the kucha (temporary) houses in the rural areas into pucca (permanent) houses. During the 2014-19, the state government had constructed more than 20 lakh pucca houses. His government also had created additional irrigation potential of 9 lakh hectares during the period. His government promised to provide loans to self-help groups at the rate of one per cent but was providing them at zero per cent rate.

With the state going for polls to both the State Assembly and Lok Sabha, Naveen is leaving no stone unturned to woo the voters by launching several populist programmes. With a vision to augment rural infrastructure, Naveen on Friday launched various developmental projects under the ‘Ama Odisha Nabin Odisha’ program for Puri and Nayagarh districts. He launched 4130 projects worth Rs 134 Crore belonging to the Puri district and 2924 projects of Nayagarh district worth Rs 97 Crore.

The biggest populist programme is the Ama Odisha Nabin Odisha (AONO), under which all 6794 panchayats in the State will receive Rs 50 lakh each. The chief minister on October 10 approved Rs 148.50 crore for 297 gram panchayats coming under six assembly constituencies of Keonjhar district and Rs 109 crore for 218 gram panchayats in Bhadrak district.

These developmental programs will accelerate growth and help promote, preserve, and protect the Jagannath culture and traditions of the State, the BJD leader said adding that the vision of the intervention is to transform Odisha into a modern and aspirational Odisha, retaining the essence, soul, and spirit of Jagannath culture and spreading it over to the world.

Similarly on Thursday, he rolled out the ‘Location Accessible Multi-modal Initiative’ (LAccMI), a forward-looking public transportation system connecting gram panchayats to the State capital, part of a series of populist initiatives being launched in the run-up to next year’s elections. As many 36 buses will connect 111 gram panchayats in Malkangiri district, many of which are the remotest of remote in the country.

Mission Shakti Self Help Group (SHGs) will be engaged in various operation and maintenance-related activities within the blocks in the first phase of LAccMI bus services, which will be implemented in Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Gajapati and Kandhamal districts. The government plans to spend Rs 3,178 crore in the first three years of the bus operation from 2023-24 to 2025-26. As many as 1000 buses would ply connecting interior pockets with urban centres. On October 11, the State government announced to bear Rs 528 crore towards interest for the loan which members of Woman Self Help Group would take for buying scooter.

The BJD government also announced to expand the Drink from Tap Mission to 13 towns which would benefit 12.30 lakh people. A Special Development Council (SDC), formed to accelerate developmental works in nine tribal-dominated districts, was provided an additional Rs 75 crore. This year, the SDC will have a fund to the tune of Rs 351 crore.

In spite of a plethora of welfare measures, Odisha has been able to manage to keep the debt to GDP ratio, interest payment to total revenue and FRBM targets at the desired level. This seems to be the secret of Naveen’s popularity and electoral success.

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