EC curbs on volunteers disbursing pensions spark political slugfest in Andhra Pradesh


PTI, Apr 4, 2024, 10:46 AM IST

The recent order by the Election Commission barring volunteers associated with the Andhra Pradesh government from performing poll duties and administering welfare schemes has sparked a crossfire between the ruling YSRCP and the opposition NDA, comprising TDP, BJP and Janasena. The YSRCP government introduced a ward and village volunteer system in 2019 as a decentralised governance delivery mechanism. This system enables a volunteer, who oversees 50-60 households, to go to the threshold of the beneficiary to hand-deliver welfare pension.

However, on March 30, the ECI issued orders banning volunteers from extending government schemes, welfare benefits and other related activities, which eventually brought the monthly pensions disbursal to a grinding halt, which otherwise would have been completed on April 1. However, this unforeseen consequence transformed into a major political slugfest between the ruling party and opposition coalition, who are striving to milk the development to their electoral advantage, and whose leaders are desperately trying to turn the tables on each other for the delay in pension disbursals.

”I hope you have seen how low Chandrababu (Naidu) stooped. He made his aides lodge a complaint with the Election Commission to issue orders restraining volunteers to deliver pensions from April 1 at doorstep,” Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy said, addressing an election campaign meeting in Annamayya district.

The CM claimed lakhs of beneficiaries, who include the elderly, specially-abled, widows and people who could not feed themselves are suffering as they did not receive their pension on the first day of the month. Denying Reddy’s charges, TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu said TDP neither objected to the distribution of pensions nor the Election Commission issued orders to stop them. ”A massive political controversy is happening with respect to pensions. We don’t need rulers who subject old people and specially-abled people to hardships for their political benefits…As soon as we come to power, we will hike the pensions to Rs 4,000 without unnecessary conditions and deliver them at home,” Naidu said in a post on X on Tuesday.

Immediately after the issuance of EC orders, Naidu wrote letters to the Chief Electoral Officer and chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh to make alternative arrangements for the distribution of pension. ”Though volunteers are barred from handling the distribution work, EC has permitted to engage other government employees to carry out the programme. Since a large number of village level and ward level employees are available with gram and ward schivalayams (secretariats), they may be pressed into work immediately,” Naidu wrote. Near Amalapuram in Konaseema district on Wednesday, Naidu claimed the 1.26 lakh-strong staff in the ward and village secretariats was an ample workforce which can easily distribute pensions in every village with an average of 45 pensioners. Further, he alleged this move is fraught with the conspiracy to convey a message to the public that TDP is responsible for obtaining orders from ECI, because of which distribution of pensions at the doorstep is not being done and delays in this process are being attributed to the party. Meanwhile, Janasena chief and actor-politician Pawan Kalyan on Wednesday urged his party cadres to take responsibility of lending a helping hand to the old and specially-abled pensioners by taking them in their vehicles to receive their pension and safely drop them back home, considering the scorching summer temperatures.

He made the same appeal to all cadres of NDA partners in the state. Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president Y S Sharmila also appealed for the timely delivery of pensions. Later on Wednesday, Sashibhushan Kumar, principal secretary, Panchayat Raj and Rural Development said the process of disbursing pensions commenced in all the districts for the 66 lakh beneficiaries. He noted that the state government has released an amount of Rs 1,952 crore for disbursing the pensions. ”The district collectors have made all the arrangements for the smooth distribution of pensions to all the pensioners from April 3 to 6, 2024,” said Kumar in an official press release.

According to the principal secretary, 13,699 ward and village secretariats from a total of 14,994 have already begun the exercise of disbursing pensions, adding that more than 25 lakh beneficiaries received their pensions on Wednesday.

In view of the summer days, Kumar said Collectors have been instructed to start disbursing pension right from 7 am on Thursday.

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