Hours before poll schedule announcement, LDF govt rolls out measures to woo voters

Rubber plantation, Kerala
Rubber plantation, Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram | In an apparent bid to woo voters ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, a cash-strapped Left government on Saturday sanctioned funds under various welfare schemes and also implemented the increased rubber subsidy as announced in the Kerala budget.

The announcement regarding the rubber subsidy implementation and sanctioning of the funds came hours before the Election Commission announced the poll dates, after which the model code of conduct would come into operation.

Elections will be held in Kerala on April 26.

The welfare measures were also rolled out in the wake of reported grumblings within the Left party workers over the halting of various schemes and delay in disbursal of pensions meant for the aged and destitute persons in the state due to the financial crisis in Kerala.

There were also reports of brewing discontent among various sections of the society, especially those dependent on the social security pensions and welfare funds for their survival.

Amidst these circumstances and with the polls just round the corner, state Finance Minister K N Balagopal announced the sanctioning of the funds and took the opportunity to also blame the Centre for allegedly withholding its contributions in various central projects.

Balagopal said that an order has been issued to implement the increased rubber subsidy of Rs 180, as announced in the budget.

Further, Rs 628 crore has been sanctioned towards pension arrears, over Rs 450 crores have been approved for pre-matric and post matric scholarships for the years 2021-22 and 2022-23 for various categories of students and Rs 40 crore has been allowed for disbursement of salaries and honorarium of National Health Mission (NHM) and Asha workers, separate statements issued by the minister's office said.

Balagopal said the state government has implemented the Rubber Production Incentive Scheme in view of the fall in prices of natural rubber.

The government had on February 5 announced in the assembly that in the budget for 2024-25, the subsidy amount for rubber would be increased by Rs 10 from Rs 170 per kg. It had said this would come into effect from April 1.

On Saturday, the minister claimed that even as the price of rubber rises in the international market, the policies adopted by the central government are causing its rates to fall in the country.

In this situation, the state government had decided to help the rubber farmers as much as possible despite its financial difficulties, Balagopal said in a statement.

The development comes in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday saying that both the LDF and UDF governments have turned a blind eye to the struggles of rubber planters.

Besides that, the Rubber Board had on Friday announced an incentive of Rs 5 per kg for the export of rubber sheets.

In the statement issued by the minister's office, Balagopal said the shortfall in rubber prices from the market rate would be given as a subsidy to the farmers.

He also said that an additional Rs 24.48 crore has been sanctioned as production bonus to rubber farmers in the state.

More than 1.50 lakh small and marginal rubber farmers, who are on the Rubber Board's approved list of beneficiaries, will get the benefit, the minister said.

In April 2021, the subsidy amount was raised to Rs 170 per kg.

The minister also announced that the third installment of the arrears of the 11th pension reform of retired employees and teachers has been sanctioned.

He said Rs 628 crore has been sanctioned for this purpose which would benefit around 5.07 lakh people.

The government has also sanctioned Rs 130 crore for the Life Mission project under which houses are provided to the homeless, the minister's office said.

The amount sanctioned is the state's share under the project, it said.

It also said that Rs 356 crore has been given to the project this year.

In addition to these, Rs 454.15 crore has been sanctioned towards pre-matric and post-matric scholarships for children belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward, Minority and Economically Backward categories for the years 2021-22 and 2022-23.

Besides that, Rs 40 crore has been sanctioned for the salaries and honorarium of NHM and Asha workers due to the Centre not giving its share in the scheme, the minister claimed.

The state government has sanctioned the amount in advance from the next year's allocation, he said in one of the statements.

He alleged that the central government was withholding even the funds already agreed upon for disbursement under various projects.

The amount allocated by the central government for NHM activities in Kerala has not been made available for four months over the issue of branding, the minister claimed in the statement.

On Friday, Balagopal had announced that the Left government will disburse two more installments of the Social Security and Welfare Fund Pension.

The minister said that Rs 3,200 in two installments would be paid before Vishu, the celebration of the Malayalam New Year which falls on April 14 this year.

Balagopal had also referred to a March 11 announcement regarding the distribution of the first installment and said that every eligible person would receive a total pension amount of Rs 4,800 during Vishu, Easter and Ramzan.

Out of 62 lakh welfare pension beneficiaries, all those who have undergone mustering will get the amount, he had said.

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