Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday brushed aside the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s allegations of discrimination against the hill State of Himachal by the Centre and instead maintained that the State government could not utilise a sum of Rs. 10,000 crore allotted to the State under Centrally-sponsored schemes. Ms. Gandhi, while addressing a rally in Mandi in support of the Congress candidate, said that she was deeply pained at the pathetic condition of the poor people in the State due to poor utilisation of crores of rupees sent by the Centre.

Ms Gandhi admitted that corruption had assumed cancerous proportions in the country and its international image had suffered due to it.

Referring to the hike in the prices of diesel and LPG, she said those were difficult decisions the government had to take, and added that over 80 per cent of the oil was imported.

But she attacked the BJP government for not reducing or abolishing VAT on LPG in Himachal Pradesh as many States run by the Congress had already done it.

BJP manifesto

Meanwhile, Mr. Dhumal released the party manifesto in Shimla on Monday and said that despite great discrimination by the Centre, the State government tried its best provide assistance to benefit all sections of society. He referred to subsidised rations, free school uniforms, free CFL bulbs, increased daily wages and social security pensions.

The Chief Minister, who was accompanied by senior party leaders Kalraj Mishra, Shanta Kumar and Satpal Satti, also announced free induction heaters to be given to all families. He said free medicines would be provided to all patients in government hospitals and daily wages would be increased to Rs. 250 if the BJP was voted back to power. Calling the Congress’ announcement of giving an unemployment allowance a bogus promise, he said the BJP would try to generate at least 10 lakh jobs in the next five years. The incumbent government had provided about 50,000 jobs in the public sector and about 1 lakh jobs in the private sector in the past few years, he said.

The party intended to encourage cement, fruit, floriculture and medicinal plant-based industries in the State. The party proposed to reduce loan interest for farmers from 4 per cent to 2 per cent, advance loans to those opting for self-employment avenues at 2 per cent interest, regularise all contract employees after 5 years of service and in five years procure 500 buses for providing better transport services.

The party was also committed to rewarding panchayats that registered over 90 per cent voting turnout and providing financial security for all single women in the State.