Patna, Oct. 17: The Nitish Kumar government is throwing economics to the wind to curry favour with the electorate following projections that its votebase is shrinking after the split with the BJP.
The government has of late taken several policy decisions, which, according to strategists in the Janata Dal (United), could augment the party's votebase.
Poll surveys have forecast that the JD(U)’s vote share is dipping at the expense of the BJP.
But these decisions have added to the pressure on the state’s exchequer.
Economic experts find it hard to explain the spate of populist announcements at a time when the chief minister has been repeatedly knocking the doors of the Centre for special category status on the plea that Bihar was one of the poorest states in the country.
The decisions which are expected to swell Nitish’s votebank but hammer down the state's financial health include an increase of Rs 3,000 in the monthly pay of schoolteachers, a similar hike for jawans of the special auxiliary police (SAP) force and a raise of Rs 4,000 from Rs 1,200 in the annual uniform allowance for them.
The government has also withdrawn the tax on khaini and rescinded the decision to double the holding tax on houses and lands.
The total additional burden on the state exchequer is expected to be around Rs 800 crore per year.
“Bihar requires special treatment but its case becomes a little weak if the government’s decision is taken with an eye on votes. The timing for doling out benefits may be questioned. These decisions can’t be questioned legally but the government can be questioned on political propriety,” economist and Patna University professor Nawal Kishore Choudhary said.
Choudhary argued that the government should have increased the salary of teachers much earlier as they were poorly paid.
“The government maintained protracted silence when the schoolteachers were violently agitating for the hike in their salary. The timing of raising the salary indicates the chief minister is guided more by votebank politics rather than taking care of the genuine concerns of the teachers. Similarly, exempting khaini from the tax bracket may please tobacco farmers but its social cost will be huge and may pose health hazards,” he said.
Mahavir Cancer Sansthan director Dr J.K. Singh expressed surprise as to why the government took such a decision when there is a ban on sale of gutkha in the state.
Consumption of khaini and gutkha together account for nearly 90 per cent of oral cancer cases.
“The decision to exempt khaini from the tax bracket would certainly promote tobacco chewing among the people. There must be some reason or logic behind the decision as it has been passed by the cabinet,” Singh said.
The commercial taxes department used to charge 20 per cent tax on khaini (unfinished tobacco) till June 26, 2012. The quantum of tax was raised from 20 to 30 per cent again with effect from April 1, 2013.
The farmers of khaini growing districts such as Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Samastipur and Nalanda had requested the chief minister a few days ago to exempt khaini from the tax net.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Nand Kishore Yadav told The Telegraph that though the Nitish government is utilising public money for the ruling party’s electoral gains, the decisions would not yield political dividends.
“Nitish’s party is not going to benefit from these decisions. Reason being that teachers appointed on consolidated pay are not a satisfied lot as they are still getting salary less than Grade IV employees. The same thing happened with SAP jawans whose salary was increased at the last minute. On the other hand, the government is promoting khaini consumption by exempting the tax,” Yadav said.