Three days after the Election Commission (EC) had accorded permission to the State Government to continue disbursement of Rythu Bandhu money to the farmers, it has abruptly withdrawn the order citing violation of the model code of conduct.
It was only on November 24, the EC had issued an order allowing the BRS Government to continue the Rythu Bandhu disbursement. This was considered a major relief for the BRS Government that led to an uproar from the Congress alleging yet another nexus between the BRS and the BJP.
The benefit was not transferred to the beneficiaries accounts in the past three days. The State Government was getting ready to disburse the benefit from November 28.
Sources said the trigger for the strong EC action was the remarks made by Finance Minister T. Harish Rao in his election campaign that Rythu Bandhu disbursement would start a day before the polling on November 30.
Taking cognizance of the remarks, EC directed the Chief Electoral Office (Telangana) Vikas Raj to serve a notice on the Minister for violating the model code of conduct. There was no specific day by which the Minister was expected to reply to the notice.
It was pointed out that the Rythu Bandhu disbursement of benefit was usually done during November-January during the Rabi season in since 2018. The government has not followed any particular fixed date for disbursement.
It may be mentioned here that in its November 24 order, the EC had mentioned that it has no objection to the disbursement of Rythu Bandhu benefit and that Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) under the scheme will not be affected during the silence period and the polling day.
Rythu Bandhu scheme is BRS Government’s initiative that provides farmers with investment support for agriculture and horticulture crops. The idea is to reduce the debt burden of the farmers. As per the scheme, each farmer gets DBT of ₹5,000 per acre each season for purchase of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other requirements.
Beginning with 50.25 lakh farmers in 2018, when the scheme was launched, now the Rythu Bandhu beneficiaries have gone up to 70 lakh.
Financial assistance to the farmers has been a major election issue this time. The Congress party’s six-guarantees also has a mention of the scheme. Calling its assurance as Rythu Bharosa, the Congress party promised every year ₹15,000 per acre for farmers/tenant farmers and ₹ 12,000 for the agriculture labour and bonus of ₹500 for paddy crop.
The BRS manifesto went a step ahead and hiked it to assures ₹15,000 support the farmers per acre while the BRS Government came up with its announcement of ₹16,000 per acre every year.
The commission noted that the Minister had “not only violated the provisions of the model code of conduct but also conditions laid down by publicising the release under the scheme and thereby disturbed the level playing field in the ongoing election process”.
The Congress party had also filed a complaint with the ECI seeking order to stop the ruling Bhartiya Rashtra Samithi (BRS) from using Rythu Bandhu in their election campaign.