Bhopal, Feb. 24: For once, cows seem to be milking politicians.
The Digvijay Singh regime has doubled grants for the bovines in the Rs 559-crore deficit budget the state presented today.
Priests have benefited, too. So have the 4,00,000-plus elected representatives, namely sarpanches and block and district-level panchayat heads, who will be getting a higher “honorarium”.
The state-run Gau-sewa Aayog (cow welfare commission) will now get funds to the tune of Rs 1,50,00,000 instead of the Rs 70,00,000 it received in 2002-2003.
The commission, a first of its kind, had been complaining about paucity of funds.
Cows have become a major poll plank in Madhya Pradesh, which will go to polls later this year. While Digvijay and the Congress are busy projecting themselves as patrons of the animal, the BJP caught them on the wrong foot after it released a letter from the state Youth Congress chief dubbing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a “beef-eater”.
The generous grant notwithstanding, cows are a picture of neglect, hunger and malnutrition in the state. Last week, hundreds died in Sheopore district from cold, lack of fodder and shelter when they were caught in a sudden hailstorm. Though the Assembly was in session, the matter was not raised by the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP.
The honorarium for Hindu priests and Muslim imams has been almost doubled. All those who were getting Rs 300 a month would now get Rs 500 and those getting a grant of Rs 150 will get Rs 250. Madhya Pradesh is one of the few Indian states that fund religious activities.
State officials said it was in keeping with the terms and conditions when the princely state merged with the Indian Union. The increased grant would put an additional burden of Rs 40 crore a year on the state exchequer.
State finance minister Col. Ajai Mushran, who presented a record 10th budget, denied that the mild budget that avoided stringent fiscal discipline was “election oriented”.
State BJP leader Babulal Gaur and others dubbed the budget a lacklustre exercise, which lacked vision and imagination.
Mushran said Madhya Pradesh would introduce a uniform Value Added Tax (VAT) from April 1, 2003. Highlighting the virtues of VAT, he said it would end the “needless tax war” among states.
Mushran was at a loss for words when he was asked if the government would come up with supplementary grants.
In the last 10 years, the Digvijay regime has come up with supplementary grants every year.