On Tuesday, Rajasthan became the first state in India to have a free air travel scheme for senior citizens above the age of 70, to undertake annual pilgrimages or 'teerth yatras' to select pious locations.
The Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan recently launched the 'Deendayal Upadhyay Varishth Nagrik Teerth Yatra' scheme which will allow senior citizens of the state to fly free of cost to venerated places of worship such as the Tirupati on state-sponsored 'teerth yatras' or pious trips, The Times Of India reported. Even lodging and food expenses shall be borne by the government.
What is the scheme all about?
The scheme is a revamped version of the old Teerth Yatra scheme that was launched by former chief minister Ashok Gehlot during his tenure, but was suspended for review by the BJP leadership in 2014 after it came to power in the state.
Under the earlier scheme, senior citizens were sent to sponsored teerth yatras by trains, an aspect which has received an upgrade with the new scheme. Now the senior citizens will be given air tickets.
In addition, the boarding/lodging and other local travel and ticket expenses of the teerth yatris will also be borne by the govt, unlike the previous scheme, which just covered train-travel fare.
How are candidates chosen?
A total of 111 senior citizens have been chosen this year to fly to Tirupati Balaji. In fact, the first batch of 30 senior citizens has already flown to the temple city from Jaipur International Airport. The rest will also be flown out in two bathes, following the return of the first batch.
Apart from Tirupati, the state has also chosen 357 senior citizens to go to Rameshwaram, and 225 more to go to Jagganath Puri.
The candidates that become eligible for the free trips are chosen by lottery, and the process is overseen by the Devasthan department in Rajasthan government, which is responsible for heritage conservation in the state.
A populist scheme?
The move is expected to win the Vasundhara Raje government some applause, and is well in time before the next state assembly elections two years later.
"Today, the first flight of its kind in the country is going and I believe that they will go comfortably and will return comfortably. There are those to take care of them as well in the plane and we will get blessings as well", Vasundhara Raje told reporters as she personally flagged off the new scheme on Tuesday, India Today reported.
According to another report on News18, the total expenditure on air fare for the trips is expected to amount to Rs 1.75 crore.
This is the second populist step the state govt took this year. The first was the launch of Annapurna Vans (à la Tamil Nadu's Amma Canteens) which are meant to function as subsidised mobile kitchens.
Claiming that the government wants the 'blessings' of senior citizens of the state, Raje said, "Their happiness will add to the happiness index in Rajasthan.”
Though other states such as Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh do have pilgrimage schemes for senior citizens, they only cover train fare.
Feature Image Source: Reuters