Subscribe Now! Get features like
New Delhi The Union government on Thursday said its nationwide outreach campaign to highlight central schemes, Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra, will not enter the five poll-bound states until the model code of conduct is lifted, hours before an Election Commission directive on the same lines was made public.
In a letter to the cabinet secretary dated October 26 (Thursday), the poll panel said the aforesaid activities — referring to the campaign — “should not be undertaken in the constituencies where Model Code of Conduct is in force up till 5th December, 2023”.
Earlier, a senior government official told reporters that it has been decided to drop the word “rath” to refer to the vans to be used in the yatra.
The proposed yatra had come under criticism from the Opposition after a government circular dated October 18 said it would involve bureaucrats of joint secretary/director/deputy secretary ranks as “rath prabharis” (special officers) to publicise schemes launched by the Narendra Modi government in the past nine years across the country.
“There is no plan to start the ‘Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’ in election-bound states where the model code of conduct is in place. In poll-bound states the yatra will start when the model code of conduct is lifted,” I&B secretary Apurva Chandra said.
Polling for the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram will be held on different dates in November. Results of all five assembly polls will be declared on December 3.
A senior government official acknowledged that the use of the word “rath” created controversy. “That is not the appropriate word to use here,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
“Henceforth, we will not use the word ‘rath’ for the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) vans,” Chandra said.
Earlier, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge opposed the involvement of civil servants in the yatra, writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against “politicisation” of the bureaucracy and urging him to withdraw the circular.
“It is a clear violation of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, which directs that no government servant shall take part in any political activity,” Kharge wrote. “While it is acceptable for government officers to disseminate information, to make them ‘celebrate’ and ‘showcase’ achievements blatantly turns them into political workers of the ruling party.”
On Thursday, Chandra, however, dismissed criticism that government officials were being drafted for a political campaign, saying the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra is purely a government programme and it would be incorrect to attribute political motives to it.
In its letter, the poll panel also asked the government not to appoint “district rath prabharis” in the poll-bound states and the Tapi constituency of Nagaland where by-election is scheduled to be held.
“It has been brought to the notice of the Commission that a letter has been circulated to the ministries for nomination of senior officers as ‘District Rath Praharis’… Commission has directed that the aforesaid activities should not be taken in the constituencies where Model Code of Conduct is in force up till 5th December, 2023,” EC said in the letter.
The Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra (VBSY) will be flagged off by the prime minister on November 15 from Khunti in Jharkhand to commemorate the birth anniversary of tribal icon Birsa Munda. It will continue till January 25 next year, Chandra said.
The yatra will spread information about 20 central schemes from 10 different ministries, launched during the last nine and a half years of the Modi government, across 255,000 gram panchayats and nearly 18,000 urban locations. While the ministry of agriculture will be the nodal authority in rural areas, the I&B ministry will be the nodal authority in urban areas, Chandra said.
Aditi covers technology policy, online free speech, privacy, cybersecurity, and surveillance.
Subscribe Now! Get features like