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Since 1st March, 1999
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There’s no party like a poll party DA and power: bill to GoI

New Delhi, Feb. 20: In possibly its last please-the-voter announcements before the elections, the cabinet today handed higher salaries to government employees, cleared a scheme to light up parts of India that are not shining and unveiled a few other welfare measures.

Coming though these do before the polls, capping a series of concessions since the beginning of January, the government said there was “nothing immoral” in its acts.

Fulfilling the promise made by finance minister Jaswant Singh in his interim budget, it approved the merger of dearness allowance up to 50 per cent of basic pay with basic salary for government employees and raised the rate of DA by 2 per cent.

The two acts of benevolence, combined with a 2 per cent higher dearness relief for pensioners, will cost the government over Rs 1,700 crore in 2004-05.

The revision of the DA and dearness relief rates will take effect from January 1, 2004, together amounting to around Rs 851 crore for 2004-05.

A similar amount will have to be spent on the DA-salary merger, coming into effect from April 1.

Among other decisions, a Rs 6,000-crore programme to electrify one lakh villages over the next two years was approved.

It was also decided to create a social security net for 12 lakh anganwadi employees, build 750 residential schools for girls in educationally-backward blocks and launch a Rs 1,865-crore scheme for complete polio eradication by the year-end.

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who announced the decisions, said: “As long as a government is there, work on welfare of the people will continue. There is nothing immoral about it. Welfare work is moral work.”

The decisions came on a day the Election Commission discussed with political parties possible dates for the elections, which are expected to be fixed any day now and after which the model code of conduct will kick in, tying the government’s hands.

Now, government employees are paid DA at the rate of 59 per cent of basic pay. From April 1, DA to the extent of 50 per cent of basic pay will be merged with basic salary and the remaining 9 per cent will continue as DA, but to be paid at the higher rate.

Along with the rise in basic pay, there will be an accompanying increase in other allowances such as house rent.

The central decision will bring pressure to bear upon states, many of which are hard up. Bihar, which is among the worst, announced a 3 per cent DA revision today itself.

Three rural electrification schemes have been clubbed into one to set a target of taking power to a lakh villages and a crore households in two years.

Swaraj said the Rs 2,400 crore that had been earmarked for the three schemes would now be transferred to this new scheme. She said that while 40 per cent of the Rs 6,000-crore outlay would come as subsidy, the rest would be extended as loans by financial institutions.

A village will be considered electrified only if a minimum of 10 households have power.

The subsidy for the scheme will be made available by the government through the appropriate institutional framework to co-operatives, non-government organisations, panchayats and entrepreneurs.

The three schemes that have been merged are the accelerated rural electrification programme, the Prime Minister’s Kutir Jyoti Yojana and the rural electrification component of the Prime Minister’s Grameen Yojana. The grants available for these schemes over the 10th five-year plan will be compressed into two years.

Swaraj said the programme would utilise the entire gamut of technologies ranging from conventional coal-generated power to solar photo-voltaic cells, hydel and wind power and diesel generators.

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