Virbhadra targets young - with doles

Shimla, Aug 30 (IANS) With an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is all set to woo a major chunk of the young votebank through doles.

At the same time, the ruling Congress is moving toward fulfilling its electoral promise of rooting out corruption.

Political observers say the fund-starved eight-month old government, reeling under an ever-swelling wage bill, has not only widened the scope of its ambitious skill development allowance for unemployed youth but also tightened the noose around government functionaries allegedly involved in murky affairs, mainly during the BJP's previous regime.

Replying to a debate in the assembly earlier this week, Industries Minister Mukesh Agnihotri said the government has widened the scope of the skill development allowance scheme, the main poll promise.

"The norms of the scheme have been relaxed and its scope enlarged by extending the benefits up to matriculate youth," he said.

"The scheme, which was of Rs.100 crore, will be of Rs.500 crore at the end of five years," he said.

The chief minister, in his budget speech in March, had announced a skill development allowance of Rs.1,000 to those who have passed Class 12 and above.

The government this week fulfilled another poll promise by announcing in the assembly that all the 6,318 teachers appointed by Parent Teachers Associations during the earlier Congress regime would be regularised.

Those who were dismissed by the previous BJP government would get their jobs back, it said.

But a politically shrewd Veerbhadra Singh, who is at helm for the sixth time, is categorically clear on his government's drive against corruption.

"I am reviewing on a weekly basis all the probes into the benami land deals and land law violations during the BJP regime," he told reporters in Shimla Tuesday.

He said the results of the probes would be made public when they were over.

Official sources said the police have so far tightened its noose against BJP legislator and former minister Rajeev Bindal, a close confidant of previous chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, and BJP MP Anurag Thakur-headed Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA).

A chargesheet was filed in a Solan court last month against Bindal in a nearly one-and-a-half-decade-old corruption case, while a case of cheating and misappropriation was registered against the HPCA over alleged wrong doings in allotment of land to it for building a residential complex for players near its cricket stadium in Dharamsala.

Quite naturally, the BJP is terming the government's actions politically motivated.

"We will fight out each vindictive action of the Congress against our partymen, from MLAs to ward members," Dhumal told IANS.

He said the chief minister has resorted to vendetta and witch-hunting instead of focussing on development.

"We will also pay back the Congress leaders in the same coin when we return to power," the former chief minister said.

That's quite a 52-month wait!

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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