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Gehlot gives cheap land, free laptops to journalists

Author: Navtan Kumar 
Publication: Sunday-Guardian
Date: September 14, 2013
URL: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/news/gehlot-gives-cheap-land-free-laptops-to-journalists

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot of the Congress is ensuring favourable press for himself ahead of the Assembly elections by doling out sops to journalists — from free laptops to land at dirt cheap rates.

Hundreds of accredited journalists in Rajasthan have got land at half the base price fixed by district level committees. Base prices are much lower than market rates. 571 journalists in Jaipur have got 198 sq metres of plot each at Nayla along the Jaipur-Agra Highway, 25 km from the state capital. The township to be built there has been named "Patrakar Nagar". In Ajmer, around 100 journalists have got land from the government. This newspaper could not get hold of figures from other districts.

The Rajasthan government is also in the process of distributing free laptops to 1,500 journalists. The district level journalists, who have availed of the land scheme, have taken possession of their plots. But in Jaipur, the allottees are yet to get possession as a petition has been filed in the Rajasthan High Court alleging that many "non-deserving" journalists benefited from the scheme.

Gehlot promised in 2010 to give land to accredited journalists for "fulfilling their residential needs". In April this year, the Gehlot government allotted the plots through a lottery system.

As per the scheme, only journalists with a salary of more than Rs 6,000 are entitled to get land. They are supposed to get a certificate from their respective media houses saying that they are on their rolls. The journalists have to be accredited with the state government and will have to file an affidavit that he does not have any other plots of land in his or her name.

However, a petitioner, Sunil Kumar Heda has moved the Rajasthan High Court alleging that several journalists not based in Rajasthan got plots as well. As per Jaipur Development Authority rules, only Rajasthan journalists are entitled to avail the Nayla scheme. The High Court issued a notice to the state government in July and is yet to announce its verdict in the case.

Rajendra Heda (not related to Sunil Heda), a journalist with a Hindi newspaper said that many journalists who had left Rajasthan, have returned to Jaipur just to buy these plots. "There are several cases where the journalist has got a plot at Nayla, despite having a plot in another state." He alleged that in Ajmer, public relations officers with government and public sector undertakings and even newspaper owners have got land.

This is not the first time that Gehlot has given land to journalists. He did the same when he was Chief Minister between 1998 and 2003. The Patrakar Colony at Mansarowar in Jaipur is witness to Gehlot's love affair with the media. But the Patrakar Colony could not ensure Gehlot a victory and the BJP came to power defeating the Congress in December 2003.

The Gehlot government is also in the process of distributing laptops "to help journalists meet the challenges of the IT revolution". Gehlot had promised the laptops in this year's budget.

A miffed Vasundhara Raje, who is leading the BJP's campaign against Gehlot, said, "He has not delivered in the last five years, so he is now wasting public money in the form of free medicines, free medical check-ups and now free laptops. But the people of the state cannot be taken for a ride. They know what a mess the Congress rule is and Gehlot will have to pay for this in the elections."

Unmoved by the criticism, Gehlot said, "I am only distributing the public's money among the masses. It has been there in my budget announcements. She should read the budget allocations. She has been missing from the state for all these years, so she is not aware of what happens here."

"He has spent crores of rupees in government ads for television and newspapers and now he wants to grease the palm that holds the pen. This is nothing but a cruel joke on the people of the state," countered Raje.

Archana Sharma, the Congress' spokesperson in the state, defended the laptop scheme by saying, "Why is there so much uproar over free laptops to journalists? We are not giving them money, but just helping them write their stories."

The state government has also started a pension scheme of Rs 5,000 per month for retired journalists of the age of 60 years and above. It has also introduced a health insurance scheme for journalists.

With inputs from Vishal Baristo
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