As the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government is set to complete a year in office, there are rumblings in the triumvirate of the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP with the Congress complaining about its ministers not getting the required funds to implement policies in the departments headed by them.
Here’s a look at what the latest tiff in the MVA is all about.
Why is the Congress upset?
Earlier this week, Maharashtra Energy Minister and Congress leader Nitin Raut had to shelve his much talked about proposal of partly waving off high electricity bills that residents of the state had incurred during the lockdown. While Raut had claimed that the proposal was being shelved due to mounting bill arrears, rising debt of the power distribution companies and the Centre for not helping out, Congress leaders have blamed the Ajit Pawar-led Finance Department for its failure in allocating funds for the proposal. Congress has claimed that the proposal was sent eight times to the Finance Department but was stalled each time. The alleged disinterest shown by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in allowing the proposal has also hurt the Congress. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
What had Nitin Raut proposed?
During the peak of the pandemic, Congress leaders in the state had been panned for not being visible enough or leading the fight against the pandemic. As part of the political optics to address this criticism, Raut had come up with an electricity bill waiver scheme.
Due to the lockdown, power distribution companies were unable to take physically note meter readings for three months, leading to consumers receiving inflated power bills in July. This led to the government drawing flak from all quarters. Raut’s department in August proposed to bear the bulk of “additional” burden in power bills. As per the now shelved proposal, all eligible households were to be liable to pay only for the units consumed in the corresponding months in 2019. For cases where the billed units for April, May and June this year exceed the corresponding usage by 100 units or less, the government had proposed to bear the entire cost of the surplus consumption, while proposing to absorb 50 per cent and 25 per cent of the extra burden for cases where the surplus billed units range between 101-300 units and 301-500 units.
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Why was the proposal not cleared?
While the proposal was meant to benefit 1.14 crore households or 90 per cent of all residential consumers in the state, it was expected to cost the state exchequer Rs 1071 crore. With state revenue severely hit due to the lockdown, the state’s finance department had raised several queries, which had stalled its further progress. The state seemed to be hesitant in taking up this additional financial burden. Ironically, the proposal in August was formulated following a meeting between Finance Minister Ajit Pawar and Raut.
Is this the first time the Congress has complained about being given secondary treatment?
The Congress is a junior partner in the MVA alliance. Congress leaders have, over the past year, complained that their departments were not getting requisite financial support. Earlier this year, a section of the state Congress leadership had also raised concerns that the party was not getting its due in the alliance and there were threats that 11 Congress MLAs would go on a hunger strike as funds were not being made available to their constituencies.
The Congress cadre had also put up posters in Thane stating that the party was not getting its rightful dues as an equal partner in the alliance. Tribal Development Minister K C Padvi has also complained about lack of funding. Maharashtra Congress president and State Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat also acknowledged that Congress ministers were complaining of step motherly treatment.
Will the Congress pull the plug on the alliance any time soon?
The Congress in Maharashtra is in a vulnerable position with the state leadership not willing to stick its neck out in taking difficult decisions or working towards expanding the party’s base. With the party’s recent performance at the electoral hustings in Bihar most leaders are adopting a wait and watch approach. There is however growing unease amongst the ranks and file. Local leaders of the Congress earlier this week announced that they would fight elections in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation expected to take place in 2022 on their own and will not ally with the Shiv Sena which governs the BMC. While the party may not pull the plug on the government as of now, leaders say that it needs to show its dissent so that it is not treated as a pushover.
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