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Government volunteer system becomes eye of political storm in run-up to polls in Andhra Pradesh

Introduced in 2019 by the ruling YSRCP, the volunteer system is a decentralised governance delivery mechanism, entailing one volunteer to oversee 50 households for delivering welfare pensions and other schemes at the beneficiaries' doorstep.
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 04:47 IST
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 04:47 IST

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Amaravati: Ward and village volunteer system, a wing of the YSR Congress government, has emerged as the eye of a political storm between rivals YSRCP and TDP in the run-up to the upcoming elections in Andhra Pradesh, with both ruling and opposition parties trading charges against each other.

Introduced in 2019 by the ruling YSRCP, the volunteer system is a decentralised governance delivery mechanism, entailing one volunteer to oversee 50 households for delivering welfare pensions and other schemes at the beneficiaries' doorstep.

However, the opposition NDA coalition of TDP, BJP and Janasena allege that the volunteer system is being deployed to further the electoral prospects of YSRCP and perform in an advantageous way to the ruling party run by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy.

TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu and Janasena chief Pawan Kalyan have regularly targeted the volunteers, numbering around 2.6 lakh over the past five years.

However, after realising the sensitivity of the issue, Naidu is now trying to woo them with lucrative remuneration if TDP is voted to power in the state.

On March 30, the Election Commission (EC) barred volunteers from carrying out two specific jobs-poll duties and delivering social pensions.

The EC move restricted the volunteers from disbursing the monthly welfare pensions, which they usually do on the first of every month, April 1 in this case.

This caused delays and hardships to the beneficiaries, most of them aged people, providing ammunition to YSRCP to allege the EC barred them only after Naidu’s 'henchmen' lodged complaints.

Further, Reddy alleged during his electioneering bus tour in Prakasam district that Naidu obstructed welfare schemes aimed at the poor by frequently approaching the Courts, asserting that the former CM could not digest the fact that volunteers were serving the poor selflessly by delivering pensions on time.

Disappointed by the poll body’s curbs, scores of volunteers 'tendered' their resignations across the state.

YSRCP seized the opportunity and further amplified the resignations, claiming that volunteers have resigned on their own volition, though there were allegations that the ruling party leaders motivated them to resign.

"Local YSRCP leaders motivated us to resign but did not compel. They also shared the resignation format. Most of the volunteers have resigned," a volunteer from West Godavari district, who recently resigned, told PTI.

Naidu, taking a turnaround, noted that he is not against the volunteers and promised to double their honorarium from Rs 5,000 per month on forming the government in the southern state.

Alleging that YSRCP is deceiving the volunteers by engaging them in opportunistic politics, the opposition leader noted that he will support volunteers as long as they work for the people and not for YSRCP However, the fallout of EC orders against the volunteers and their subsequent prohibition from executing welfare duties compelled Naidu to write multiple letters to the EC, chief secretary and the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to make alternative arrangements for the disbursal of pension.

In the aftermath of several old people struggling to go to government offices to collect pension and also in the face of allegations that some of them succumbed to sun stroke, Naidu alleged a political conspiracy.

He claimed that the chief executive of the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), a wing of the rural development department, had issued orders calling the pensioners to government offices to collect their pensions.

According to the TDP supremo, this move is a conspiracy to convey a message to the public that TDP is responsible for obtaining the orders for non-distribution of pensions at the doorsteps and causing the delays.

Though the volunteers have been sidelined by the EC, Naidu contended that 1.26 lakh-strong government employees in the ward and village secretariats as an ample workforce which can easily distribute pensions in two days.

Meanwhile, Reddy vowed that 'reviving' the volunteer system would be his first step after being re-elected, even though it is amply clear that the system was not scrapped but only restrained from carrying out election and welfare duties.

Elections for the 175-member Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh are scheduled on May 13 and the counting of votes is slated for June 4.

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Published 14 April 2024, 04:47 IST

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