Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday announced a 150% increase in grants — from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 — to Durga Puja committees this year, in a move that’s expected to cost the state exchequer Rs 70 crore, up from last year’s Rs 42 crore.
She also announced a 25% reduction in electricity bills, although it wasn’t immediately clear who would foot this: the government, or the electricity supply agencies.
Banerjee’s largesse — announced during her annual pre-Puja meeting with committees — drew huge cheer from the organisers, but it entails a 66.7% additional expense for the state’s coffers. And the amount may rise. She announced that committees led by women, or ones having substantial women members, would get an additional Rs 5,000.
The chief minister said the money was being given keeping in mind the “severe financial slowdown” in the country. “I have discussed the proposal with my finance minister, my chief secretary, the police commissioner and the director general of police, and all of them have agreed,” she said.
Last year, the decision to grant funds to Puja committees was challenged in Calcutta High Court and later in Supreme Court on the argument that using state funds built with citizens’ taxes couldn’t be spent for a religious festival because it went against Articles 14, 15 and 27 of the Constitution. A division bench led by Justice Debashis Kar Gupta had initially stayed the government decision but refused to come in the way of the government when the state advocate-general submitted that the government had disbursed the money as part of its “traffic safety campaign” and not for the religious festival.
On Friday, Banerjee said Durga Puja spreads the spirit of inclusiveness, and people of the state should not give any space to powers and ideas that are trying to trigger conflict between communities and vitiate the atmosphere. She also mildly rebuked her senior ministers Firhad Hakim, Aroop Biswas and Sujit Bose for creating separate VIP entries at the pujas they helm. “Everybody should queue up to see the goddess,” she said.
BJP read a populist move in the announcement. “I strongly oppose the move,” said BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu. “We believe in justice to all and appeasement to none. The CM is trying to win hearts by throwing crumbs to the Puja committees. It is not going to help her, as was evident in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.”
Source: Times of India