After brazenly pursuing its ‘yarn and blanket’ politics to create a beneficiary base in every State constituency, the Tarun Gogoi government has got its come-uppance in the Supreme Court. Taking a stern view of the manner fincial benefits are being distributed without any guidelines whatsoever under the Chief Minister’s Rs 500 crore welfare schemes, the apex court has bluntly termed it an ‘electoral gimmick to suit vested interests’. Restraining the government from implementing such schemes until further orders, the SC bench headed by the Chief Justice made several scathing observations. ‘Elections are due in the State and what is happening? Hundreds of crores of rupees are being disbursed through welfare schemes without there being some basic norms to identify the needy,’ the bench observed. It then asked the State government how it went about choosing the really needy from among the lakhs of poor in Assam. While denying allegations of favouritism in disbursing the welfare scheme doles, the government’s counsel had to admit there was ‘no scientific way to identify the beneficiaries’. The bench then rebuked the government, observing: ‘This is part of your governce... Do it before you distribute’. It also advised the government to ‘go to the villages and identify the beneficiaries... there are lakhs of people living in kutcha houses who need the benefits’. What comes through clearly from these observations by the bench is the sorry figure cut by the State government in the apex court. The matter came up for hearing on a special leave petition filed by an NGO complaining about the lack of transparent and credible criteria in the State government going about distributing cash doles to farmers, artisans, petty traders, widows, women’s self-help groups, flood-affected and homeless people, as well as old age pensions.
The petition contended that the government had set aside Rs 862.5 crore for this purpose, but did not seriously try to publicise the eight schemes among the needy. In this manner through administrative order, Rs 362.5 crore have already been distributed. Committees were set up to purportedly select beneficiaries, which has not impressed the Supreme Court much with the bench caustically observing: ‘When minister in charge of a district and the MLA along with persons nomited by them are members of the committee, there is a general assumption about which kind of persons will get the benefit’. The bench then further pulled up the State government by asking whether it thought the ‘poorest of the poor would come to the High Court or the Supreme Court to complain’. So it has now been thoroughly exposed in the apex court how huge amounts of public money in Assam, instead of reaching the deserving poor, has been cornered by political parties to keep vote-banks in good humour in the run up to the assembly elections. In constituency after constituency with the likelihood of multi-cornered contests, where shady electoral deals can be struck like propping up weak or dubious candidates to split off rival votes — a political party can bag a seat without the support of even one-third voters. This is where the need to create a beneficiary base in every constituency becomes vital for a ruling party. The Gauhati High Court in a stay order earlier this month, had asked the State government to frame fresh guidelines for selection of beneficiaries. But the government nevertheless went ahead ignoring the court orders, such is the ruling party’s desperation to buy votes. With the Supreme Court now making it clear that the Assam government will have to lay down norms to identify beneficiaries and get its welfare schemes approved by the High Court, hopefully ‘yarn and blanket’ politics in the State will be checked in the coming days. It remains to be seen how ministers and babus respond to contempt notices slapped by the Gauhati High Court, and what action is taken against them.