Stop Rythu Bandhu scheme till poll code is in place, EC tells Telangana
Under the scheme, the state government makes a direct benefit transfer of ₹5,000 per acre per season – Rabi and Kharif – into the account of every farmer.
The Election Commission (EC) on Monday asked the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS)-led Telangana government to stop disbursing financial aid under the Rythu Bandhu scheme for farmers until the model code of conduct is lifted in the poll-bound state, a direction that the ruling party said would cause an “irreparable loss” to the agricultural community as it urged the poll body to reconsider its decision.
The poll panel’s direction, on Monday morning, came three days after it allowed the Telangana government to disburse ₹5,000 per farmer for the winter sowing season, as part of the biannual instalment under the scheme which was launched in May 2018.
ECI’s decision was prompted by the actions of Telangana finance minister T Harish Rao, who, on Sunday, spoke of the impending disbursement at election rallies in violation of the model code of conduct (MCC).
In its order, EC said Harish Rao “not only violated the provision of the MCC contained in Para VII of Model Code of Conduct but also conditions laid down as above by publicising the release under the scheme, and thereby disturbing the level playing field in the on-going election process”.
“The permission granted for the Rythu Bandhu scheme shall stand withdrawn with immediate effect till the model code of conduct ceases to apply in all its form,” an EC official said in a letter to the state chief secretary.
The order also noted that Rao, who is the nephew of chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), is contesting as a BRS candidate from 33-Siddipet constituency and is a star campaigner of the party.
On Sunday, Rao said: “Even before farmers complete their breakfast and tea (on Tuesday), their accounts will be credited with the benefit.” He also accused the Congress of conspiring against disbursement of the Rythu Bandhu instalment.
Following this, the Congress complained to EC that Rao violated the election model code by speaking about the disbursement of funds under the scheme during rallies and claiming credit for it. The opposition party also alleged that the EC’s communication established a bond between the BRS and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre. “KCR is attempting to win by spending public money with the support of the Centre. The move is intended to influence the outcome of the elections,” the party alleged in its complaint.
A senior EC official, on condition of anonymity, said the problem arose because Rao mentioned a particular date for disbursement.
As EC sought a compliance report of its order from BRS by Monday afternoon, the ruling party said the reason behind the order was “wrongly placed” and urged the poll body to reconsider its decision.
“The ground that, the disbursement was stopped as Sri. T. Harish Rao, Ministry of Finance, Govt. of Telangana, has allegedly violated the condition of order dt. 25.11.2023, with due respect to your authority is wrongly placed. It is submitted that, Sri. T. Harish Rao has not made any such comment which is in violation of your order dt. 25.11.2023. He merely thanked your authority for allowing the disbursement of scheme amount to the Farmers in the State of Telangana. This statement of Sri. T. Harish Rao is an inadvertent statement and nothing but an expression of gratitude for the Election Commission’s decision,” the party said in a written submission to EC.
Since the farmers have started “cultivation activities” due to recent rainfall, “it is a legitimate expectancy for them to receive this financial assistance”, the ruling party said, pointing out that the Centre’s PM Kisan Scheme is also currently in effect.
“The stoppage of disbursement would cause irreparable loss to the Farmers - since the agricultural season would be lost,” BRS said.
Meanwhile, the EC’s directive triggered a political row as BRS lawmaker and KCR’s daughter Kalvakuntla Kavitha alleged that Congress leaders pressured the commission to stop the assistance to farmers.
“Our legal team clearly explained to ECI that Rythu Bandhu is an ongoing scheme and has not been newly included in our manifesto. When the EC was convinced and gave its nod, the Congress leaders complained to the commission again on flimsy grounds and got it stalled. This shows the insecurity of the Congress,” Kavitha said.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal posted on X: “Due to the irresponsible and narrow self-serving approach of the BRS and Harish Rao, under the instructions of his boss KCR, the ECI has denied permission for the disbursement of the Rythu Bandhu instalments. The money is the right of the farmers. It is what they deserve for their year-long hard work. When this money is supposed to be released any time between October and January, it was the BRS’s desperation which compelled them to make such irresponsible statements.”
Under the scheme, the state government makes a direct benefit transfer of ₹5,000 per acre per season – Rabi and Kharif – into the account of every farmer. The first instalment of ₹5,000 for the monsoon crop was disbursed in June this year.
According to a state government official, about ₹7,300 crore was to be deposited directly into bank accounts of over 6.5 million farmers over the next couple of days. To be sure, the payment is already delayed this year. In the past five years, the disbursement has happened between January and October.
In October 2018, EC approved the disbursement under the Rythu Bandhu scheme during that year’s assembly elections on the condition that the scheme was not publicised, no public function was organised for the disbursement, no political functionary was involved in the disbursement and no new beneficiaries were added to the list of eligible beneficiaries.
EC had agreed to Telangana government’s proposal to disburse the money from November 24 this year, six days before the voting in the state on November 30, citing the 2018 order.
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