New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Thursday approved a series of proposals that will have an impact on the electoral prospects of the ruling Congress party in poll-bound states.

Two universities were approved for Raebareli, the parliamentary constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh. The cabinet also cleared the setting up of a company for the speedy implementation of a rapid transit system in the National Capital Region (NCR) connecting towns close to Delhi. It also expanded the eligibility criteria for central scholarships for Scheduled Tribe students by raising the income ceiling.

Raebareli, the constituency long-held by members of the Gandhi family, will get the first-ever national aviation university in the country and the first all-women university. They will be named after Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, respectively. The Bills for these institutions will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, said information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari.

The Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University will be set up on a 26-acre plot of land at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Academy at Fursatganj in Uttar Pradesh. The university, which will be an autonomous body under the administrative control of the civil aviation ministry, will have an estimated funding of 202 crore during the 12th Plan period, of which 80 crore has already been sanctioned by the Union government.

“Despite the existence of a large number of private institutions in India that provide aviation education and training, there is a general consensus amongst the stakeholders that the number of programmes offered, depth of course content and infrastructure facilities available with them are not sufficient to meet the industry requirements," the government said in an official note.

The other university is seen as part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s efforts to woo women in the forthcoming electoral tests.

“This would set the pace for all-round growth and development of women in the country and supplement the efforts of the government (towards) women’s empowerment by giving them increased access to employment-oriented basic courses and high-end research," Tewari said. In the Union Budget, finance minister P. Chidambaram had announced the setting up of an all-women bank that will start functioning by November.

Tewari tried to play down the political tone of the decisions and said they don’t indicate an early Lok Sabha election.

“There is an electoral cycle in this country. Governance and administrative process are parallel lines. We believe that all government should be allowed to complete its term," Tewari said.

Ramesh Dixit, a professor of political science at the University of Lucknow, agreed. “If anything is done for the poor or the common man, it should not be seen as a political move."

Bidyut Chakrabarty, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Delhi, however, pointed out that the Congress government has been partisan when it comes to policies.

“At one level, Congress talks about decentralization of benefits, (but) when it comes to policy, it is partisan and biased... Such moves are vote-driven decisions," Chakrabarty said.

The plan to set up National Capital Region Transport Corp. Ltd (NCRTC) to build a regional rapid transit system (RRTS) could mark a major boost to the development of Delhi, where elections are scheduled to be held later this year.

NCRTC, which will be set up with an initial capital of 100 crore, will take up the Delhi-Sonipat-Panipat (111km), Delhi-Gurgaon-Alwar (180km) and Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut (90km) corridors for implementation.

“NCRTC will be designing, developing, implementing, financing, operating and maintaining RRTS in the NCR to provide comfortable and fast transit to NCR towns and meet the high growth in transport demand," said the minister.

NCRTC can form subsidiary companies for each corridor, the government said in a media release. The company, which will follow a pattern similar to Delhi Metro Rail Corp. Ltd, will be set up within two months and will cover Haryana, Rajasthan (another poll-bound state) and Uttar Pradesh.

In order to expand the coverage of Scheduled Tribe students who seek assistance for professional education, the government has decided to increase the total family income ceiling under its scholarship scheme to 4.5 lakh per year from 2 lakh from this fiscal year. The decision does not entail any additional burden.

The cabinet also cleared a proposal to replace the Director General of Civil Aviation with a new regulator that will be known as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will have full operational and financial autonomy, said a government official who declined to be named.

The CAA will be responsible for all airline regulations. It will also grant licences to airlines and pilots, and recruit staff for itself at rates that are comparable with those being offered by other prospective employers.

An expert said the challenge will be to ensure that the CAA is independent in all respects and headed by professionals.

“The CAA will succeed only if it is manned by professionals who are independent. Transferring old wine into a new bottle is not going to improve the system. They need a complete change of mindset," said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based air safety expert.

Meanwhile, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the sale of 5% of the government’s stake in India Tourism Development Corp. Ltd (ITDC) and 1.02% in State Trading Corp. of India Ltd (STC), in order to make them compliant with public shareholding norms, information and broadcasting minister Tewari said on Thursday.

State-controlled companies are required to have a public shareholding of at least 10%, according to the new rules.

Tarun Shukla contributed to this story.

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