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Row in poll-bound Telangana after election body bars farmers’ aid disbursal

The state’s ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi alleged that the opposition Indian National Congress ‘snatched’ the payment from the farmers.

Telangana chief minister and Bharat Rashtra Samithi supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao (R) at an election rally at Shadnagar in Ranga Reddy district of the southern Indian state on Monday, November 27, 2023. (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

IN a major development ahead of the assembly elections in the southern Indian state of Telangana on Thursday (30), the Election Commission of India (ECI) withdrew permission to the state government on disbursement of financial aid to farmers under the Raythu Bandhu (Friend of the Farmer) scheme, triggering a blame game between the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and the opposition Indian National Congress.

The ECI’s action came as a Congress leader on Sunday (26) requested it to bar the BRS led by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao from mentioning the disbursement of funds under the scheme during the poll campaign after the state finance minister made a public announcement about the Rabi (crop) instalment.

Under the Rythu Bandhu scheme, farmers in Telangana are given Rs 10,000 (£95) per acre every year in two tranches in Rabi and Kharif (crop) seasons.

Earlier, the ECI had on Friday (24) given a green signal to the state government to disburse the amount before Tuesday (28).

As the issue snowballed into a major controversy in the last leg of the campaign with the ECI on Monday withdrawing permission for the disbursal of funds, the BRS alleged that the Congress has “snatched” the payment from the farmers.

“Dirty politics of Congress has once again surfaced. They are delaying the payment of Rythu Bandhu, which is an ongoing payment. It is not an election promise. It is not a new programme that is made for the elections,” BRS lawmaker K Kavitha told the Press Trust of India.

Telangana Congress senior vice president G Niranjan had in a letter addressed to chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar alleged that BRS leaders were making the ECI’s nod to disbursal of funds as a “tool to influence” voters as if they are giving it out of their own pockets.

But the Congress blamed the BRS for the situation, alleging that those ruling the state, in their desperation to hang onto power, have ended up denying what is due to farmers. It alleged that the withdrawal of permission was the result of the “irresponsible and self-serving” approach of the Rao-led party.

In its order, the ECI said state minister T Harish Rao had violated the model code of conduct for elections and “disturbed the level playing field” by speaking about the release of money under the scheme.

“The commission has observed that T Harish Rao, minister of finance and heath and family welfare, Govt of Telangana … has not only violated the provisions of MCC (model code of conduct)… but also conditions laid down as above by publicising the release under the scheme, and thereby disturbed the level playing field in the ongoing election process,” the EC letter to the state chief electoral officer read.

Harish Rao had reportedly said, “The disbursement will be made on Monday. Even before the farmers complete their breakfast and tea, the amount will be credited into their account.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said it was KCR’s minister who violated the model code of conduct which is currently in effect. “KCR was lying to the people of Telangana on Rhythu Bandhu by blaming the Congress party. “Rhythu Bandhu disbursement has been prevented by Election Commission during the elections,” Kharge said in a post on X.

“It is the Congress party that wanted beneficiaries must be transferred the money, but the KCR Government did not do it. The Congress party always stands with farmers,” he also said at a rally in Medak in the poll-bound state.

(With PTI inputs)

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