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Eye on polls, Centre doles out sops

New Delhi, July 24: The Centre appears to have suddenly gone into an overdrive, scrambling to announce new schemes, repackage old ones and dole out freebies ahead of Assembly polls later this year.

After yesterday’s round of cabinet committee meetings, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs met today and cleared a Rs 1,065-crore national programme to impart elementary education to girls.

The outlay will come from the overall Plan allocation of Rs 17,000 crore for the universal education scheme incorporated in the tenth five-year plan. However, a distinct “girls component” is being carved out of the scheme.

The panel also approved an integrated forest development scheme to ensure the sustainable development of 170,000 villages situated near forests.

As a direct sop to voters in the capital, which also goes to the polls, the panel cleared the Rs 624-crore phase II of the Yamuna action plan to clean the polluted 2 km stretch along Delhi.

The official spokesman said the education scheme had been cleared as “gender disparities continue till today in almost all states” despite efforts made for the “universalisation of education”.

The programme provides for the preparation of district education plans to improve educational facilities and persuade children between 6 and 14 to attend school. The new scheme will provide extra financial incentives within the existing ceiling of Rs 150 per child per annum.

It also envisages the development at the cluster level within the existing ceiling of Rs 16,000 per annum and community monitoring within a ceiling of Rs 95,000 per cluster over five years.

The forest development scheme is aimed at controlling illegal felling of trees to protect the country’s biodiversity. The Centre expects to provide better livelihood to villages near forests and save Rs 100 crore per annum by checking illegal exploitation of forests.

The existing forest-fire control scheme and the scheme to improve infrastructure in forest areas will be repackaged in the shape of the new programme for a wider perspective.

The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation has committed Rs 530 crore for the Yamuna action plan. It will be implemented on cost-sharing basis by the Centre and Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The Centre’s share of Rs 530 crore will be reimbursable by the Japanese organisation. The states’ share will be Rs 94 crore.

A new Rs 190-crore nationwide mental health scheme was also cleared by the panel. A one-time Rs 73 crore allocation will be made for modernising mental hospitals in districts and another Rs 38 crore will be spent on upgrading psychiatric wards in general hospitals.

The scheme also aims to bring mental-health treatment to the community level instead of keeping it hospital-based, which is in tune with the worldwide trend.

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