Election Commission hits pause on KCR’s 95 lakh saree distribution scheme

The Election Commission on Wednesday evening hit pause on the distribution of 95 lakh sarees by the Telangana’s K Chandrashekar Rao government after a spate of complaints against the scheme.

The poll body’s decision comes just a day after Telangana Chief Electoral Officer Rajat Kuma said the panel had okayed a request from the state government to distribute sarees to the state’s poor women on the occasion of Bathukamma, a Telangana folk festival celebrated during the Dasara Navratri celebrations.

Wednesday’s EC order, however, said it had not permitted the distribution of sarees on the occasion of Bathukamma festival on October 12.

In a communication to the Chief Electoral Officer, the Election Commission said that it had not permitted the distribution of sarees by the state government on 12 October.

The EC order did not mention the Rythu Bandhu scheme, which entitles the state’s 57.17 lakh farmers to financial assistance of Rs 4,000 per acre during the coming Rabi season in November.

The EC communication comes against the backdrop of reports that the state’s CEO Rajat Kumar had cleared the distribution of sarees since it was a continuing scheme.

The Bathukamma saree scheme was launched in September 2017 amidst a lot of hype and huge publicity. Nearly 96 lakh women, Telangana’s poorest, were given sarees at a total cost of Rs 220 crore as a festival gift. The objective of the saree scheme was to endear the government to women voters, besides gaining the support of over 20,000 weavers by providing them employment in the form of weaving the sarees.

This year, the government had spent over Rs 280 crore and placed orders with weavers at the Sircilla powerloom clusters well in advance to produce the sarees.

The EC order comes after the state’s Congress Committee’s election coordination committee chairman Marri Shashidhar Reddy complained about the government’s efforts to publicise the Bathukamma saree distribution.

Reddy told HT that he had written to the EC stating that caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his cabinet colleagues were making statements on the implementation of ongoing schemes like Bathukamma sarees or Rythu Bandhu, saying they would get permission from the EC. “Now that the EC stalled the distribution of sarees, our stand is vindicated,” he said.

Reacting on the EC decision, TRS MP B Vinod Kumar said it was unfortunate that the Congress party sought to politicize a noble scheme. “Anyway, it is good for our party as well. We can go and tell the people how low the Congress leaders have stooped to deny even sarees to poor women on the Bathukamma festival,” he said.

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