Parties promise the moon to Bihar voters but finances on shaky ground

Political parties have made tall claims to voters in Bihar even though the state’s finances are in the doldrums due to the pandemic as well as lack of industrialisation.

While the Tejashwi Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has promised to provide a million government jobs in its election manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it would generate 1.9 million employment opportunities.

How feasible are the promises?

To this query, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi wondered, “You (RJD) are promising the moon. Has any Cabinet in its first meeting cleared one million government jobs anywhere in the world? Where are the government jobs that you will give?”

Modi told Business Standard the crisis faced by the states now was how government employees will be given salaries after November.

Modi said if the RJD’s promise was to be believed, Rs 58,000 crore would have to be set aside in the Budget.

“You will have to close other government schemes and stop Rs 30,000 crore of pension. The government will be paying only salaries.”

Distinguishing between Yadav’s promise and that of the BJP, Modi said the latter had not promised government jobs; instead, it talked about creating job opportunities.

“We have promised that we will create one million job opportunities in the agriculture sector. The core sector is agriculture in Bihar. We will set up FPOs (farmers producer organisations),” he said.

However, D M Diwakar, professor of economics at the A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, and its former director has different views and says the RJD’s promise on jobs is feasible.

“There are 1.045 million vacancies in government, as revealed by the JD(U)-BJP government itself,” he said.

But where is the money to pay the salaries of the additional government employees? Even if prohibition on potable alcohol is removed, it will generate only Rs 3,500-4,000 crore.

Diwakar responded: “The budget size has increased from Rs 22,000 crore in 2004-05 to over Rs 1 trillion in 2019-20.”

“You have to re-prioritise your expenditure. The money being spent on non-employment sectors will be allocated to employment sectors. Your secretariat jobs are vacant, block-level officials are not there, and you have neither a sizable number of health workers, nor adequate police personnel, nor enough teachers in schools, nor the required number of lecturers in colleges and universities,” he said.

Mahesh Vyas, managing director and chief executive officer of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), said generating government jobs should be feasible.

“We don’t expect the government to deliver anything because the government does not have the resources,” he pointed out.

In its bid to make India self-reliant, the BJP has promised to expand the footprint of small-scale industry in Bihar, especially in automobile parts, electrical and electronic parts, and toys.

It spelt out tax incentives and electricity subsidies and land acquisition support for pharmaceuticals firms.

The manifesto focused on education, promising 300,000 teachers. It talks about giving computer education to all students from Class 6 upwards, and providing tablet computers to meritorious students. This will incur revenue expenditure, but will be beneficial in the long run.

The RJD, on the other hand, said it would make rural employment guarantees individual-centric, from the household-centric approach. Further, it talked about expanding the period of rightful employment from 100 days to 200 days. But more importantly, it vowed to introduce an urban version of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). If the state decides to top up the MGNREGS this way, expenditure on the scheme may double from the current Rs 3,300 crore per year.

The RJD manifesto includes farm loan waiver, which has been a defining characteristic of most Assembly elections since 2015.

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