Lucknow, June 20: Akhilesh Yadav has wrapped up his free laptop scheme and instead pledged funds for building toilets and upgrading the police force in the state budget unveiled today.
“We have kept our poll promise and distributed laptops in the first phase of our programme. The stress in this budget is infrastructure and rural development,” said the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, under pressure after his party slipped from 21 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to five now.
“We believe the future of development in the state hinges now on building infrastructure like roads, bridges and augmenting power supply,” he said.
In the budget presented in the Assembly today, Akhilesh appeared also to be responding to charges of poor law and order and rising crime against women.
The Rs 2,74,704-crore budget sets aside Rs 12,400 crore for upgrading the police force and Rs 359 crore for building toilets for the poor in villages, the absence of which is blamed for rising incidents of rape as women are forced to go out in the dark.
The budget also allocates Rs 23,928 crore for upgrading power supply, another issue that was raised by the BJP in the elections, Rs 25,522 crore for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and Rs 300 crore for buying solar rickshaws for the poor.
The laptop scheme, on which Rs 2,858 crore was spent in 2013-14, did not get a single rupee. Last year, the Akhilesh government had distributed 15 lakh free laptops to Class XII students as promised. At the time of the scheme’s launch, he had said 40 lakh would be distributed this year.
The pet project of Akhilesh had been billed as “bridging the digital divide in society”. But it came under fire from within the party after the Lok Sabha poll debacle.
“Those who did not get laptops far outnumbered those who got, and this has bred discontent,” a cabinet minister said, requesting not to be named.
Since there was no criteria for selecting eligible students, distribution was often chaotic and in several places students who had missed out on the laptops clashed with police.
Mining minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati on June 3 told journalists the laptop scheme needed to be shelved because it “did not yield the desired poll results”.
Also, the state government feared it would not get funds for the scheme from the Narendra Modi government unlike last year when the Planning Commission had sanctioned Rs 2,700 crore.
Earlier this month it decided not to renew the contract with Hewlett-Packard, which had supplied the laptops last year, or float a fresh tender.
Sushil Kanaujia, a senior member of the Uttar Pradesh chamber of commerce and industry, welcomed the decision. “It is a relief that the state government has decided to evacuate money from the unproductive schemes to building infrastructure,” he said.
The unemployment dole — Rs 1,000 a month — announced last year has also been quietly dropped, as has the one-time gift of Rs 30,000 to every girl going to college.
But while Uttar Pradesh has done away with the laptop scheme, neighbouring Uttarakhand has decided to launch its own. The difference though is that the Harish Rawat government will give away laptops to those students who score above 80 per cent marks in the Class XII board exams.