The ruling Congress in Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday released its manifesto for the November 9 assembly election, promising interest-free loans to farmers, laptops for students and special grade pay scale for all employees. Releasing the manifesto, Congress leader and Health Minister Kaul Singh said all marginal and small farmers in the state would be extended an interest-free loan of Rs one lakh without following strict conditions. He said if the party returned to power, all categories of employees would be granted a special grade pay scale. For the labourers employed in the central government-funded Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the party said their wages would be hiked to Rs 350 per day from the existing Rs 150.

“We will ask the central government to increase the MGNREGA wages from Rs 150 to Rs 350. If it will not agree, we will provide the hiked wages from our own resources,” said Kaul Singh. He was accompanied by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh at the manifesto launch ceremony here. The Congress government has been distributing 10,000 laptops every year among meritorious students of Class 10 and 11 under the Rajiv Gandhi Digital Students Yojna. The manifesto promises to provide 50,000 laptops annually to check dropouts from government schools.

The minister said the party was in the fray on the basis of its five-year rule that ensured all-around development with the focus on opening educational and health institutions, especially schools and colleges in far-flung areas, and developing road infrastructure.

The manifesto also promises to put in place a mechanism to monitor corruption cases with the setting up of an anti-corruption grievances commissioner. It said contractual employees would be regularised in two years and pensioners would get a substantial hike in pension. It also promised to enhance social security pensions and people above 75 would get Rs 1,500 old-age pension.

To woo the voters at the grassroots level, the Congress said powers would be decentralised in Panchayati Raj institutions, the village-level third tier of governance, up to panchayats. The votes cast in the Himachal polls will be counted on December 18 along with those in Gujarat.