Free power on poll eve
Sushil Kumar shinde
The Election Commission intervened to keep politics out of the Ganesh Puja in Maharashtra. It banned cassettes and CDs of the Shiv Sena, citing violations of the code of conduct. Uma Bharti'sTiranga yatra was watched by the EC with a magnifying glass. Yet, when the Congress-NCP committed a serious violation?supplying free electricity to farmers just 10 days before the election, paying over Rs 500 crore to the MSEB for it, the ?watch dog? is not barking, leave alone bite.
Free power has become a reality in Maharashtra in the middle of election campaign. Strange, but it'strue. On October 2, Maharashtra Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, as promised, delivered two cheques to the office of Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) totally amounting to Rs 558 crore. For what? Well, for providing free power to the farmers. The MSEB spokesman confirmed not just the receipt of the cheques but also the fact that the Board had started issuing zero bills to the farmers for the next three months. The next day the free power supply story was widely reported in the regional press all over Maharashtra. But how could this happen? Is there no election code of conduct, which by all measure, is sacrosanct? How could the government release the funds on October 2, just 10 days before the elections? Well, the sauce for the goose does not seem to be sauce for the gander.
The MSEB spokesman also explained that out of the total Rs 558 crore, Rs 403 crore is for free power supply to farmers in the state, while Rs 8 crore is for providing subsidised electricity to Mulla-Parva Co-operative Society. The rest Rs 155 crore was meant for the Board to adopt the accelerated power development pro-gramme (APDP) in the state, essentially for reforms in the sector. Even this payment to MSEB was delayed to the last minute because the new regulatory authority, viz., Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) was not ready to play ball with the state government over free power sops for farmers.
An EC otherwise sensitive looks the other way.
On September 23 MERC had rejected the state government proposal for entering into book adjustment with MSEB for Rs 395 crore as the board already owes it Rs 600 crore. There are two aspects to be noted here. First, that the government with impunity released the funds for the ?free power to the farmers? election promise. Second, the reforms in power sector have been jeopardised with the state government choosing to give away free power to farmers.
But the discrepancy in the implementation of the code of conduct is not limited to this issue. When Shri Raj Thackeray, leader of Shiv Sena, brought out a campaign video on the Mumbai bomb blasts last week, notices were promptly issued to curb any use of ?violent audio-visual? stream to influence voters. But just a few months ago, during the general elections, the video CD made on Gujarat riots was widely used and distributed in almost every Muslim constituency, even in Kerala and Bihar. Wonder, why there wasn'tthe same alacrity in banning the Gujarat CD? Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee even listed the Gujarat CD to be one of the main causes for the defeat of the NDA.
The most brazen attempt at influencing the voters by the church was during the last general elections and Goa state Assembly elections. The church had repeatedly come out with statements asking Christians not to vote for BJP, and it was given wide coverage by the media. Only the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Maharashtra is sought to be kept out of the ambit of political gamesmanship. As the Freddie Mercury'ssong goes: ??strange but it'strue!?.