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Akhilesh dole with eye on 2014

Lucknow, Sept. 9: As Vijay Kumar accepted the first unemployment allowance cheque given out by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, he stooped to touch the feet of Mulayam Singh Yadav who was standing close by.

Jobless for the past five years, the 29-year-old graduate from Sitapur district looked grateful as he walked off the dais at the “allowance mela” on the Colvin Talukdar school grounds here this morning.

“The Samajwadi Party has fulfilled its promise,” screamed full-page advertisements in this morning’s newspapers as the new state government embarked on implementing the first of its poll promises.

“We are going to launch an allowance for the girl child’s education and distribute laptops and computer tablets among students very soon,” Akhilesh declared. Sources said the tablet-laptop scheme would start by November.

Mulayam, who expects welfare programmes like these to trigger an electoral windfall in the 2014 general election, has been pushing his son to quickly implement them.

Vijay Kumar was among 44 people who accepted the Rs 1,000 cheques from Akhilesh today. With another five lakh waiting their turn, a sum of Rs 600 crore has been set aside for the scheme in this year’s state budget.

The number of beneficiaries is expected to reach 16 lakh in the next four years, when the scheme will begin costing the government nearly Rs 2,000 crore annually. The dole is to be paid to jobless people aged between 25 and 40 who have at least cleared high school and whose families earn less than Rs 36,000 a year.

In a state that has an accumulated debt burden of Rs 2 lakh crore, critics have dubbed the scheme a “populist” measure and an additional strain on the exchequer. But political analysts believe that Mulayam wants to prioritise the scheme to try and upstage the Congress’s flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the state.

The rural job scheme had helped the Congress-led UPA storm back to power in the 2009 general election.

The unemployment allowance was among the key promises in the Samajwadi Party’s 24-page Assembly poll manifesto this year. Akhilesh said he was happy to announce its implementation within months of assuming office, especially since “the youths are the worst sufferers in the state after farmers”.

Mulayam, looking relieved that his son’s government had given him something to showcase before the 2014 general election, said his party was merely translating the dream of Ram Manohar Lohia into reality.

He said the slogan “Rozgar ho nehi to rozgar bhatta do (if not jobs, give us jobless dole)” was first raised by Lohia’s socialist followers.

“I hope this allowance helps forge social equality and brings smiles to the faces of the depressed youth,” he said.

Mulayam claimed that no other party bothers to act on promises made in its poll manifestos. “I feel that breach of promise too is a kind of corruption,” he said.

Akhilesh said he would raise enough money for the scheme by inviting industrialists to set up more plants in the state, which will earn the government extra revenues.

Developed countries such as Australia, Canada, the US and Germany have an institutional framework, such as a compulsory national unemployment insurance fund, to pay for their unemployment dole. The money is raised from the income tax paid by the rich.

In India this is yet to take shape. Bengal’s former Left Front government had launched a Rs 100-a-month unemployment dole in 1977 but had to scrap it in 1996 because of lack of funds, CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said.