Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik knows the fine art of keeping all sections of voters pleased. Ahead of the general elections he has been making announcements that would please various sections of people including women and the youth. He is also targeting professional groups like ASHA workers.
Following a please-all policy ahead of the general elections, chief minister Naveen Patnaik has been announcing sops for different sections of voters. Recently he opened the state coffers for the 47,000 foot soldiers of the state’s health sector, who are also opinion makers at the grassroots level.
The accredited social health activists (Ashas), popularly known as Asha karmis, will be given one-time financial assistance of Rs 10,000 each to buy bicycle, almirah, umbrella, torch light and chappal. An Asha karmi, when she leaves the job, will receive Rs 20,000 instead of the present Rs 10,000 provided she is 62-year-old or has put in 10 years of service.
Asha karmis are volunteers engaged to facilitate health care practices and maximise health service utilisation at the community level. A volunteer caters to an average population of 887 women and newborn children.
An Asha karmi usually handles nearly 41 government activities, which included immunisation, bringing pregnant mothers to the hospital for delivery, newborn care and disease control programme. These volunteers, recruited locally, were not receiving any remuneration. However, from this April, they are receiving a monthly remuneration of Rs 2,000, half of which is shared by the Centre.
The Congress and the BJP said the decision had been taken keeping the elections in mind. Most of the Asha karmis are close to the ruling party and they play a key role in influencing public opinion. State Congress president Niranjan Patnaik said the chief minister’s announcement was meant at keeping the Asha karmis in good humour in the election year.
A senior BJP leader said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to launch the Ayushman Bharat Yojana to provide health-related benefits to the people. Naveen’s announcement is to counter the scheme and use Asha workers for poll gains.”
However, the Biju Janata Dal defended the move and slammed the opposition parties for their ‘politically motivated’ comments. “They are jealous,” said a party spokesperson.
Making the announcement, Naveen said it had been done “to recognise the contribution of these health workers”. A government official said the move would entail an additional burden of Rs 50 crore on the state exchequer. During 2017-18, the government had spent Rs 117.82 crore towards remuneration and incentives of these to activists.
Apart from the monthly remuneration, these workers get maternity benefit and compensation package for death and permanent disability.
The chief minister’s pet programme, Ama Gaon, Ama Bikash (our village, our development) Yojana”, too, is aimed at drawing votes but and has drawn flak from the opposition for blatantly pushing the ruling BJD agenda while bypassing the elected public representatives of the opposition parties during implementation.The state government has provided Rs 1278 crore in this year’s budget for the programme which was launched on March 5. The government has so far released Rs 729.14 crore for 29,816 projects under the programme. On an average Rs 8 crore is being spent in each assembly constituency.
Under this programme, the chief minister directly interacts with villagers and concerned elected panchayati raj representatives through video conferencing from the state secretariat. He sanctions projects “on the spot” on the suggestions made by villagers and panchayati raj representatives
However, opposition MLAs allege that they were not being consulted even for sanctioning projects in their constituencies nor were they being involved in the monitoring process.
“The selection of the projects is pre-arranged, sponsored by the ruling BJD leaders keeping the party’s interest in mind. The so-called on-the spot sanction of the project by the chief minister is just an eye-wash,” said a Congress leader.
“We don’t have any role to play in the programme. Even we are not being invited to the chief minister’s video conferences,” said another party MLA.
A BJP MLA, too, had complaints and said that a panchayat samiti in his area had said that the elected body had not been informed about the “Ama Gaon, Ama Bikash” programme. He alleged that though crores were being spent on this government-sponsored programme, the opposition sarpanches and ward members were not being invited to the programme.
He pointed out that his constituency being a part of Scheduled Area, each and every decision needed to be passed by gram sabha which was not being done in the case of Ama Gaon and Ama Bikash programme.
Another MLA said earlier the decision on any rural project was taken by gram sabha or palli sabha and the work order was issued in the name of a labour leader. “Now, under Ama Gaon, Ama Bikash programme, the decision is being taken by the chief minister and work order being issued in the name of the junior engineer”, he said.
He alleged that no work under the programme was being done in the five BJP-ruled gram panchayats in Jharbandh block of his constituency and projects were being executed based on the proposals of the ruling BJD leaders.
Describing the scheme as “Ama Gaon Ama Binash (destruction) Yojana, a legislator alleged that funds worth crores of rupees were being spent to rehabilitate ruling BJD workers and contractors under the scheme with the upcoming elections in mind.
However, state government officials refuted opposition charges and asserted that there was no question of involving any party functionary in the programme. He said that the proposals for projects were being given by the elected representatives after thorough discussion and the proceedings were being videographed.
“The programme is being run smoothly as per the guidelines. The opposition parties are just criticizing it for opposition sake”, he said. Whatever may be the truth such programmes, however, are likely to further boost chief minister’s popularity. With that he is certain to emerge victorious in the next polls.