The Telegraph
Wednesday , February 20 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Akhilesh on a rickshaw roll

Lucknow, Feb. 19: If the cycle ride gets bumpy, Akhilesh Yadav can always fall back on battery-operated rickshaws.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister today announced a Rs 400-crore allocation for battery-powered rickshaws as part of a bouquet of freebies, and avoided fresh taxes as the ruling Samajwadi Party geared for elections ahead by trying to “live up” to its promises in its budget for 2013-14.

The announcements sparked criticism from a combined Opposition, which slammed the Rs 2,21,201.19-crore budget as “populist” and one “targeted to win votes” in the 2014 general elections, while analysts put the fiscal deficit at Rs 23,913 crore.

Akhilesh, who had toured the state on a cycle — his party’s symbol — ahead of Assembly elections last year, said: “We tried to live up to the poll promises we made.”

The state government has envisaged a total allocation of Rs 1,500 crore over the next five years for rickshaws, to be given to 2.5 lakh registered pullers in the state.

The allocation for rickshaws came about a week after Akhilesh and his cabinet colleague Azam Khan were photographed riding a battery-operated rickshaw they had gifted to a puller in Lucknow.

Akhilesh has set aside Rs 1,200 crore for unemployment allowances and Rs 350 crore on education projects for girls. The government also proposes to spend Rs 20,292 crore on welfare schemes for Dalits and tribals, minorities and physically challenged persons.

The government has set aside Rs 777 crore for reimbursing scholarship and school fees for minority students. The sops for farmers include Rs 1,650 crore to waive loans of eight lakh farmers and Rs 200 crore for free irrigation facilities. A sum of Rs 600 crore has been set aside for distributing two saris each to all below-poverty-line women above 18 and blankets for those above 65.

Congress leader Pramod Tiwari slammed the budget. “The state government has opened its cash spigot for everyone without indicating how it is planning to bridge the deficit,” he said.

BSP legislators, who walked out over under-utilisation of the 2012-13 budget, said it had exposed the government’s inefficiency. Party leader S.P. Maurya called it “a fraud on governance”.

Uttar Pradesh BJP chief L.K. Bajpayee said the government’s flamboyance would ruin the state’s economy.

Analysts said one reason for the Opposition attack was the government had refrained from imposing any fresh taxes but had tabled a budget that showed a 10 per cent increase from last year’s estimate.

An Opposition leader said the government had barely implemented 55 per cent of last year’s allocation.

Akhilesh conceded that implementation had been low. “But that was because my government came to power in March last year and the budget was passed in July. Hence the government got only seven months to utilise it,” he said.