Denying allegations of bias levelled by the governments of Odisha and West Bengal, the Election Commission (EC) on Friday clarified that its approval was held up for their farmer support schemes on account of incomplete information provided by the states.
The ruling BJD in Odisha had alleged this week that the state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) had stopped Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (Kalia) scheme, the state government’s direct transfer benefit for agricultural workers, even as implementation of the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) was allowed.
The TMC government in West Bengal also accused the poll panel of bias, and complained that implementation of Krishak Bandhu — the state’s cash transfer scheme for farmers — was disallowed under the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) even as PM-Kisan has the EC’s nod.
How proposals are vetted, forwarded in poll times
One of the reasons the Odisha CEO returned the proposal seeking MCC clearance for Kalia was that it wasn’t routed through the screening committee comprising senior officers of the state government. This committee is expected to vet all proposals, and only forward to the state CEO ones that cannot wait until the end of Lok Sabha elections. The CEO then forwards the proposal to EC. This arrangement is routine and is put in place before any election in anticipation of the deluge of MCC references from the Centre and state governments. The EC only wants to look at proposals that demand immediate attention and cannot wait until the elections are over.
According to sources in the EC, the Odisha government’s proposal did not carry relevant details on beneficiaries of the Kalia scheme, which is necessary to ensure the state is extending benefits to only existing beneficiaries and not enrolling new ones during election season.
“Besides,” an EC official said, “the state government did not follow proper procedure to get clearance under the Model Code of Conduct. All MCC references have to routed through a screening committee comprising the state chief secretary and principal secretary of the department to which the proposal relates. They sent it directly to the state CEO.”
“The CEO returned the proposal seeking more information on beneficiaries. The state (government) resubmitted the plan, but it was still incomplete. It has been sent back again,” the official said.
Similarly, sources in West Bengal CEO’s office said, the TMC government’s proposal for Krishak Bandhu lacked details on beneficiaries, and the state was asked to resubmit the plan with relevant information.
According to EC’s March 5, 2009, instructions, “beneficiary projects where specific beneficiaries by name have been identified before coming of the Model Code of Conduct into force” can be continued, even after elections are announced, without any reference to EC.