State government’s scheme to give 95 lakh sarees to poor women was uncertain after model code of conduct came into effect.

The Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday said the Telangana government can distribute 95 lakh sarees in the state from October 12, enabling caretaker chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao to reach out to voters ahead of elections.

The model code of conduct will not apply to government schemes and programmes announced before September 6 when the state assembly was dissolved, said state chief electoral officer Rajath Kumar.

State election authorities sought a clarification about implementing two schemes — Bathukamma saree distribution for poor women and Rythu Bandhu for supplementing farmers’ incomes — after an EC communication dated September 27 on enforcing the model code of conduct in states where assemblies are prematurely dissolved.

“The EC has clarified that as they are not new schemes, but already launched in the past and are under implementation, they would not attract the model code of conduct,” Rajat Kumar said.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government aimed to impress women voters and gain the support of over 20,000 weavers when it launched the saree scheme in September 2017. Around 96 lakh women living below poverty line (BPL) were given free sarees as gifts for the Bathukamma festival, and the scheme is estimated to have cost Rs 220 crore then.

However, women in many places said the sarees were of poor quality and the government was humiliating them. Some women burnt sarees or rejected them at distribution centres.

The TRS government this year placed orders with weavers well in advance to make quality sarees, each of which will cost Rs 290. It also made a budgetary allocation of Rs 280 crore for the scheme.

Similarly, the decks have been cleared for implementing the Rythu Bandhu scheme in 10,874 villages in the Rabi season in the second week of November. The first installment of Rs 6,000 crore was paid in May for the Kharif season. The remaining Rs 6,000 crore will be distributed in November.

A TRS leader, who did not wish to be quoted, hoped that the two schemes would help the party in the coming elections. “However, there is no clarity yet as to how the distribution of sarees to women and cheques to farmers would be done. Since the code is in force, the TRS leaders including the chief minister and ministers would not be able to take part in the programmes,” he said.

According to the model code of conduct, the caretaker chief minister and ministers cannot participate in the programmes for the schemes.

The Opposition Congress party’s Telangana unit has written a letter to EC, requesting it to direct the caretaker chief minister and his cabinet colleagues not to make statements about ongoing schemes Bathukamma and Rythu Bandhu.

“KCR (as the CM is popularly called) and his ministers are resorting to dubious means to seek publicity for electoral gains by stating that they would take permission from the EC to implement these schemes. Making such statements itself must be taken as a violation of the code of conduct,” said Marri Shashidhar Reddy, chairman of the state Congress’s election commission coordination committee.

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