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Holiday in schools, last day for gifts
Sop suspense at cabinet meet

New Delhi, Feb. 19: If you thought the season of giving was over, you were wrong.

The Union cabinet is meeting tomorrow in what many reckon will be its last opportunity to announce some more pre-poll sops. And at least two ministries — Mamata Banerjee’s coal and Kashiram Rana’s rural development — rushed today to take the wraps off their gifts before the poll code of conduct kicks in.

Sources said on top of the cabinet agenda is a proposal to clear more funds for the Prime Minister’s Kutir Jyoti Prakalp Yojana — a scheme that aims to provide electricity to one lakh villages and some one crore households in two years. This scheme could entail a subsidy of over Rs 2,000 crore.

From a statement made by deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, it also appears some more concessions may be coming the way of farmers.

Mamata followed up an earlier announcement for the public sector coal industry with a Rs 519-crore loan write-off for the losing Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL). She also said the company’s losses of Rs 1,532 crore will be converted into equity, thus cleaning up its red-smeared books. The loan to be waived had been given by the parent company, Coal India Ltd.

Her rural development compatriot cleared a Rs 1,428-crore package for rural roads in seven states under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

The government has spoken about improving the quality of life in rural areas by bringing urban comforts, which at the basic level would mean roads and power.

Sources in the agriculture ministry said they had no idea if another package of incentives would come up at tomorrow’s cabinet meeting.

Advani told a group of farmers from Haryana: “Our government believes there is a good feeling in the country. But we think the feel-good will really be so when the farming community says so. Today, they are not saying so, although various sections of society are saying it.”

If anything, all the “feel-good” the government is crowing about has sprouted from the bounteous rains. That is what a member of the group tried to say when he told Advani that farmers were feeling good, too, because they expected to bring home a bumper crop.

It seems members of the Vajpayee government believe there is enough money to make those that are not feeling good feel good. “Coal India has enough money and it can be utilised to modernise old mines,” Mamata said while announcing the ECL package.

Sources in Coal India said the company had asked for this package to revive its subsidiary long before Mamata became minister.

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