A day after Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar presented the interim budget for 2014-15, making no new announcements, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan Wednesday dished out three major new populist sops.
He declared that the government would roll out a scheme from March 1, making free medicines and consumables available for all category of patients visiting state-run hospitals and health centres.
Chavan also announced the implementation of a much-delayed policy that recognises transfer of slum units constructed prior to January 1, 1995. With this, over 3 lakh slum families in Mumbai who moved into the units constructed before the existing deadline will become eligible to benefit from redevelopment projects.
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While the original provision was that the government would collect a fee to recognise such transfers, it was not yet decided whether the provision would be exercised. With the polls approaching, a senior Congress functionary said, the transfer fee could even be compensated for in the form of grants.
The CM also informed the House that his government had decided to grant “urban local body status to 138 rural bodies (gram panchayats) located in taluka headquarters, and having a population and non-agriculture land of 25,000 and 35 per cent, respectively”.
While the first decision pertains to the Congress-led public health department, the remaining two fall in the domain of the housing and urban development departments led by Chavan.
These sops were not included in Pawar’s budget speech, even though they have financial implications. The decision on free medicine and consumables involves an annual financial burden of Rs 510.60 crore, including Rs 261 crore that is to come from the state government.
Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawde said: “The government presented its budget yesterday and it is making new announcements now. Is the chief minister trying to take credit for these announcements? Can we now expect budget to be presented in pieces this way so that people can claim credit?”
While Opposition members rushed to the well of the Lower House after the CM’s announcements, their counterparts in the Upper House staged a walkout.
State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis said: “All populist policy decisions are driven by poll politics without application of economics, which matter when it comes to implementation. The CM appears to have suddenly woken up from deep slumber to rain policy decisions for masses ahead of polls. What is more shocking is that despite a deficit of Rs 5,000 crore, they are doling out decisions which in any case will remain on paper.”
Chavan, meanwhile, said the government had formulated a list of 429 essential drugs, including cancer and heart ailment medicines, and 107 essential consumables in coordination with expert doctors and taking into account guidelines stipulated by the Centre and the World Health Organization. “The move will render government hospitals and health centres prescription free,” he said.
Director General of Health Services Dr Satish Pawar said a 10 per cent rise in patients seeking treatment with government health care centres was expected following the move. An average 4.1 crore in-patients and 40 lakh out-patients seek treatment in government hospitals every year.
The move to relax slum eligibility norms is expected to allow 15-20% more slum-dwellers to seek rehabilitation in redevelopment schemes. Under the existing cut-off, about 10.5 lakh slum units are eligible for rehabilitation.