The Union government on Wednesday announced a bonanza for central government employees by raising their dearness allowances and also extended the date by which farmers were required to link their bank accounts to Aadhaar numbers for receiving income support.
The move comes just ahead of the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, two key agrarian states, on 21 October with results slated to be held on 24 October.
The decision to postpone the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar seeding with bank accounts for release of benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme from 1 August to 30 November will benefit millions of farmers, who were aggrieved as they did not receive benefits under the scheme that mandates compulsory linking of Aadhaar for release of funds to the beneficiaries.
“The mandatory requirement of Aadhaar seeding was taking time and, therefore, we have relaxed the norm till 30 November," said information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar.
The scheme provides income support to families of land-holding farmers, subject to certain exclusions, through payment of ₹6,000 per year released in three, four-monthly instalments of ₹2,000 each directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries through the direct benefit transfer mode.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government mandated the compulsory seeding of beneficiary details with the Aadhaar number for disbursal of funds from August. This impacted millions of beneficiaries as the release of subsequent instalments was delayed and many were rendered ineligible for availing the benefits.
“The BJP is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to farmers. Both the states have a very strong farmer lobby. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the PM Kisan scheme played a key role and changed the narrative of the election. The work being done by government employees is being rewarded. They want to maintain their core vote bank," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
The government’s move would enable the immediate release of benefits to the farmers who were not able to avail the benefit because of the new rule, ahead of the Rabi winter crop season.
Out of total ₹87,000 crore allocated under the scheme, more than ₹27,000 crore has already been released through the 1st instalment toover 67.67 million beneficiaries, 2nd instalment to over 51.42 million beneficiaries and 3rd instalment to more than 17.42 million beneficiaries, according to a government statement.
In another major decision, the cabinet raised the dearness allowance (DA) for central government employees and dearness relief (DR) to central government pensioners by 5%, with effect from July. At present, the employees are granted DR at the rate of 12% of the basic pay/pension to compensate for the rising cost of living. The DA and DR are revised twice a year from January to July.
“This is the highest raise of DA in one go and will benefit at least 5 million central government employees and 6.5 million central government pensioners. This will bring cheer to the working class ahead of Diwali," Javadekar said.
The move will cost the exchequer roughly ₹16,000 crore per annum and ₹10,000 crore this fiscal year.
The cabinet also approved inclusion of 5,300 displaced families of Jammu and Kashmir who initially opted to move outside the state but returned and settled in the state, in the rehabilitation package approved by the cabinet in November 2016 for displaced families from Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir and Chhamb under the Prime Minister’s development package 2015 for Jammu and Kashmir. This would enable the displaced families to become eligible to receive one-time financial assistance of ₹5.5 lakh under the scheme, and in turn, receive some sustained income.
Pretika Khanna contributed to this story.