With the release of their manifesto, the UDF is indicating that it will go head to head with the LDF in regards to welfare schemes and pensions. Moreover, it is also bringing in some new and old policies back to Kerala. Addressing a press conference, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said, “As far as the UDF is considered, the manifesto is their Gita, Bible, and Quran. The promises in the manifesto will be fulfilled once the UDF comes to power.”
Including their trademark Nyaay scheme, the UDF is aiming at creating a comprehensive welfare package aimed at giving the LDF a run for its money. The major aspect of the scheme is the UDF’s Nyaay scheme, promising Rs 6,000 to the poorest families, ensuring Rs 72,000 per year. According to MP Benny Behenan, a member of the manifesto committee, the scheme is aimed at “alleviating poverty in Kerala”. The Nyaay scheme is also aimed to help people to bring themselves out of the financial damages caused by the floods and Covid-19.
The more interesting aspect of the manifesto is the idea of a welfare pension revision committee along the lines of a pay revision committee to oversee the need to increase the welfare pension depending on the situation every year. Promising Rs 3,000, the manifesto is claiming to change it every year as per the requirements of the time. Moreover, the government will provide Rs 3,000 to ST mothers — without a government job — for six months after childbirth.
Noting that “earning is a right”, the manifesto includes housewives in the age group of 40-60, not included in the Nyaay scheme, will get Rs 2,000 per month as well. This right will also extend to senior citizens and people with disability. The latter will received financial support and/or loans from the government to buy vehicles.
Bringing back free ration to the white-card holders (BPL) including delivering 5 kg of rice per card, including issuing a priority ration card to deserving individuals. Included in the public distribution system, the UDF manifesto will continue the LDF’s free food kit started during the Covid lockdown, but will include more food items in the kit.
Another policy, making its return, is the Karunya scheme, which was brought about by the former Finance Minister KM Mani in the 2011-12 Budget. The scheme used the sale of the Karunya lottery to boost welfare policies to help people with major health issues including cancer, heart problems and more for surgeries and long-term treatment. Speaking of healthcare, the manifesto is also trying to bring about schemes to introduce bill-less hospitals and insurance schemes.
Construction of homes also features in the manifesto with the democratic front planning around five lakh houses, including increasing the construction expenditure of homes for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and fisherfolk from Rs 4 Lakh to Rs 6 Lakh. The UDF also added that they would probe into the corruption allegations against the Life Mission, but will continue the project by solving its misgivings. The government will also recover illegal hoarding of land by national and international companies — estimated to be about 5.5 lakh acres — and distribute it among the SC/ST communities as well as to those other deserving candidates. Including 100 units of free electricity to consumers, the UDF is aiming at a comprehensive package to outshine the LDF manifesto.
Moreover, following widespread criticism of the LDF government in regards to the forest rights issues, the UDF is planning to enforce the Forest Rights Act completely, protecting the rights of the tribal communities. Reversing another controversial decision of the LDF government, the democratic front promises to remove human settlements, farmlands, and plantations from the buffer zones.
The UDF manifesto promises two major policy changes, which has caused the LDF a good deal of headache. One is the Sabarimala issue, but UDF promises to bring about the Sabarimala Ayyappa Devotees (Protection of Religious Rights, Customs and Usages) Act, 2021. They had earlier released the draft in February, proposing entry restrictions with the permission of the temple thantri. Political observers had then claimed that the UDF is targeting a 2019 situation where they were able to pick up on the Sabarimala momentum and sweep the general elections in that year.
Another revision is the PSC situation, which in recent times had garnered widespread protests against the LDF government on the alleged backdoor appointment issues. To overcome the problems, the manifesto is proposing transparency in the form of routine reporting of vacancies as well as proper tracking of applications. An automated system will be established for the same. Moreover, actions will be taken against those who fail to report vacancies or take time to appoint deserving candidates. Apart from these, they are also proposing to relax the age of housewives candidates by two years.
Another legislation the UDF has planned pertains to POCSO cases and their investigation, keeping in mind the botched Walayar probe. The manifesto says that they will take action against officers whose misgivings cost the investigation and fast-track courts will be established for quick and just verdicts.
A stimulus package will be provided to boost the Kerala economy, which has been “suffering due to the Covid-19 pandemic”. Financial support will be provided to the family of expatriates who died due to Covid, including establishing a Covid disaster management committee to provide support for the family, industries, and employees who lost their livelihood due to the pandemic. The financial support will extend to students who couldn’t complete their education due to Covid-19.
Rather than announce a universal package to boost agriculture, the UDF manifesto is promising to propose a separate annual budget that will especially deal with the needs and requirements of the sector. They also announced a Minimum Support Price of Rs 250 for rubber, Rs 30 for paddy and Rs 40 for coconut. Announcing a loan waiver, the party leadership explained that it only extends to people whose major incomes come from farming and their farming is less than five acres. Rs 2 lakh agriculture loan will be waived by the government.
Considering the coastal communities and the LDF government’s controversial deep-sea fishing deals, the UDF manifesto claims that they will introduce policies that will not hinder their rights on the sea. Adding to this, the manifesto promises to avail pattayam to coastal community members to whom it is not available. Moreover, the government will also provide daily wages on those days when the fisherfolk couldn’t go out to the sea due to government orders. Insurance will also be provided to fisherfolk.
Considering the rising petrol prices, the manifesto is also proposing a fuel subsidy to autorickshaw, taxi, and fishing boats from the state budget. The government will provide a subsidy to one lakh unemployed women and men (50:50) to procure a two-wheeler. A one-time stimulus of Rs 5,000 will be given to auto-taxi workers as well.
Adding to this, the state will also provide boosts to the tourism sector, which was severely affected by the Covid-19. This also includes developing Kerala into a central experienced-based tourism destination shortly. Moreover, all benefits given to industries will also be extended to the tourism sector. Including a proposal to expand and invigorate the electric vehicle sector, the UDF is claiming to establish electric vehicle charging stations every 50 km at every major road.
They also plan to improve the state’s standing in the Ease of Doing Business Index, while making sure that the protocol is smooth enough so that small industries can be established within 30 days. Plans will be kept in place to fast-track loans to female entrepreneurs.
Speaking at the manifesto release, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor said the government should form a higher education review commission within the first three months. “The committee will include students, parents and every other stakeholder to discuss the issues plaguing the sector. While many other issues will be discussed, the main item here is the employability of the students, especially in a scenario where unemployment is rising in India as well as Kerala,” he said.
Another factor taken into consideration is the digital divide — especially considering the situation during the pandemic, where a girl had killed herself due to inaccessibility to digital devices for pursuing her education. Tharoor also encouraged the establishment of world-class universities, enforcement of anti-discrimination and anti-ragging rules, and skill development for future-proofing careers.
The manifesto also provides scholarship to deserving students who want to study outside India, apart from other financial support to SC/ST students. The support would also be provided to students suffering from severe disability. The UDF also claims to provide Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000 for three years to unemployed female students with MPhil and PhD respectively
The manifesto promises a peace and harmony department modelled after a similar venture in Rajasthan to curb political killings and conflicts within the state. Apart from this, a state vigilance commission will also be formed to probe into and root out corruption at various stages.
Apart from establishing Miyawaki model forests in urban localities to boost the green cover, the manifesto is also planning on bringing a Kozhikode-Thiruvananthapuram light metro/metro rail service.