The Gauhati High Court has given another rap to the Tarun Gogoi government for the manner it has gone about selecting beneficiaries for handing out doles in cash and kind under sundry schemes. This time, eight fincial assistance schemes in lbari district have come under the court scanner. It transpires that three months before the State government notified guidelines for the procedure to select beneficiaries, the beneficiaries had already been selected! The petitioners who moved the court have alleged that no advertisement was brought out to invite applications from potential beneficiaries, nor any criteria applied for selection. The entire process was said to be opaque and hush-hush. The High Court has now stayed the selection procedure and will conduct hearings from next month. The government has its task cut out to convince the court that there was nothing amiss in the selection of beneficiaries. Significantly, Chief Minister Gogoi has decided to disburse cash incentives to beneficiaries of various schemes by paying the money directly into their bank accounts, so as to maintain ‘transparency’. Thus, account payee cheques will be ceremonially distributed among selected beneficiaries in transparent manner while holding public meetings, as per a government circular issued recently. It is fine to make cash payments to beneficiaries in transparent manner which will plug gaps like fund misappropriation and bogus beneficiaries. But this move still does not answer the central question — by what criteria or yardstick are the beneficiaries being selected in the first place? Earlier this month, the Gauhati High Court specifically asked this question in connection with several schemes totalling Rs 862 crores. These related to distribution of yarn and blankets, old age pension, fincial assistance to widows, unmarried women, artisans, small and margil farmers, self-help groups, erosion-hit and homeless people — under schemes announced by the Chief Minister in this year’s budget. To select beneficiaries for these schemes at constituency and district levels, committees were set up comprising of ministers or their representatives, MLAs, government officials and panchayat members. The petitioner Assam Public Works had expressed apprehensions before the court that the selection of beneficiaries could be on ‘political lines’ as there was no set guideline for the procedure, neither were advertisements published. Though the court did not stay implementation of the schemes, the fact that it had to question Dispur how beneficiaries were selected, shows up the State government in poor light. After all, when doles in cash or kind are to be distributed, the number of potential beneficiaries will be much more than the number filly selected. There have been allegations galore that welfare schemes like MGNREGA, IAY and many others have been hijacked in the State to benefit a targeted section of people in every constituency who will return the favour when casting their votes. Unless there is a clear-cut, transparent yardstick for selection of beneficiaries, there will always be serious allegations that the powers-be in Dispur are playing dole politics for their own benefit with public money.
Another court rap