TRS looks to turn ‘freebies’ debate into poll issue against BJP

With annual expenditure of about Rs 50,000 crore on welfare schemes, Telangana claims to be a role model for the entire country and it is no wonder that the state’s ruling party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is outraged over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s freebies remark.

Going by the tone and tenor of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao and other TRS leaders while defending the welfare schemes, TRS is looking to turn it into a key issue in the Assembly elections scheduled next year.

Facing an aggressive BJP and a possible anti-incumbency after two terms in power, the TRS is planning to cash in on the raging debate over freebies to put the saffron party in the dock.

To start with, the TRS is trying to make it an issue in the coming by-election to Munugode Assembly constituency, which fell vacant recently with the resignation of Congress MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who has switched loyalties to the BJP.

While kicking off the TRS poll campaign with a public meeting in the constituency on August 19, CM KCR cautioned people against voting for the BJP saying it wants to scrap all welfare schemes.

The TRS chief told the people that farmers will not get free electricity, investment support, insurance facility and pensioners from various categories will not receive monthly pensions.

Ever since the formation of the first government in the newly formed Telangana state in 2014, KCR has been focusing on welfare. He defended it on the ground that 80 per cent of the state’s 4 crore population come from socially and economically weaker sections of the society.

Under its Aasara Pension Scheme, the TRS government has been paying monthly pensions to various categories of beneficiaries like old people, widows, single women, physically disabled persons, beedi workers, handloom workers, toddy tappers and patients suffering from elephantiasis and AIDS.

Some of the categories of these beneficiaries used to get Rs 200 to Rs 500 monthly pension in undivided Andhra Pradesh but KCR enhanced it to a range of Rs 2,016- Rs 3,016.

For the Aasara Pension Scheme alone, the state government allocated Rs 11,728 crore in the budget for 2022-23.

Ironically, amid the debate over freebies, KCR announced pension for another 10 lakh beneficiaries from August 15, taking the total number of beneficiaries to 36 lakh.

Under Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak schemes, the state government is giving financial assistance of Rs 1,00,116 for marriage of every girl from poor families. It allocated Rs 2,750 crore for the two schemes in the current financial year.

Under its flagship scheme Rythu Bandhu, the TRS government is providing Rs 10,000 per acre annually to farmers towards investment support. Over 63 lakh farmers are benefiting from the scheme.

Telangana claims to be the only state in the country to implement such a scheme. The cumulative assistance distributed under it crossed Rs 50,000 crore early this year.

Under the Rythu Bima scheme, the government is providing insurance coverage of Rs 5 lakh to the family of the farmer, irrespective of the cause of his death.

Telangana is also claimed to be the only state providing round the clock free electricity to farmers.

KCR added Dalit Bandhu to the list of welfare schemes last year. Billed as the only one of its kind scheme in the country, it is aimed at financially empowering Dalit families.

Under the scheme every Dalit family will get Rs 10 lakh grant for any entrepreneurial activity of its choice. In 2022-23 budget, the government allocated Rs 17,700 crore for Dalit Bandhu.

Ever since Prime Minister Modi’s remark of ‘revadi’ culture sparked a debate, the TRS leaders strongly defended the welfare scheme.

KCR, during Independence Day speech, came down heavily on the Centre for ‘diluting the nation’s federal spirit and running down welfare schemes of states by terming them freebies’.

“Public welfare is the main responsibility of governments. The Centre is not fulfilling its responsibility properly and also insulting welfare schemes of the states by branding them as freebies,” he said.

KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao, who is working president of the TRS and a key minister in his cabinet, mounted a scathing attack on the Modi government not only ignored the welfare of the people but has now started the debate on freebies to make the lives of the common man more miserable.

“The Central government brings lakhs of crores as debt but does not do any useful work with it. At the same time, if the state governments come up with any schemes for the welfare of the poor, they are the ones who spew venom on the schemes labelling them freebies,” said KTR.

He reminded the Prime Minister that India is a welfare state as written in our Constitution. “The Directive Principles in the Constitution of India assure the citizens that the government shall always work for the welfare of the people providing them social justice,” he said.

“PM Modi, do you say that states should not provide schemes like free electricity, Rythu Bandhu, and Rythu Bima which are being given to the farmers who have been exposed to nature’s wrath for decades? Don’t these initiatives provide succour to the distressed farming community,” KTR asked.

KTR’s sister and Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Kalvakuntla Kavitha believes that the welfare schemes for poor people are not freebies. She told the Modi government that waiving loans of big corporates are actual freebies.

According to her there are 250 welfare schemes that are being run by the state government for the poor. “It is our responsibility as a state government to keep the best interests of the poor in mind,” she said.

The MLC decried the current trend of terming welfare schemes as freebies. She said that the centre is putting pressure on the state government to stop these schemes.

“We’re very against this behaviour. The welfare of poor people is the responsibility of any government. I believe a freebie is what the BJP government has done- writing off a 10 lakh crore debt of duping agencies,” she said.

“India is such a diverse country with people from all backgrounds. It is the government’s responsibility to help the weaker communities to break the cycle of poverty and progress. State governments are working towards it and the Central government should not put any hindrance in this,” she added.

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