Ahead of the coming civic polls and the 2021 assembly elections, the Mamata Banerjee government, in its last full budget in the second term, has showcased figures and crafted attractive schemes that carry a political theme.
The budget is aimed at, among others, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who decide the fate of 82 (35.86%) out of the 294 assembly seats in Bengal. These 82 seats taken together with 93 of the 125 seats where minority population is more than 20%, add up to 175 seats. While the minorities are likely to vote against BJP and go with the Trinamool, the ruling party now focuses on the SC and ST population, a large chunk of which voted in favour of the BJP for the first time in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, breaking the solid support base that made Trinamool invincible.
State finance minister Amit Mitra in his Budget offered a Rs 1,000 monthly pension to each of the senior citizens from SC and ST communities with a target beneficiary of 28 lakh to win them back. The state has proposed a new Birsa Munda University at Jhargram, and Ambedkar University in the SC-dominated area. The finance minister has also promised to set up a branch of the new Harichand Guruchand University at Kalyani. The sop is aimed at the assembly constituencies in Jangalmahal — Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura — and Birbhum, parts of Malda, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling at least six assembly constituencies spread over North 24 Parganas and Nadia, where the Matua support is wavering after the Modi government promulgated CAA to grant citizenship to persecuted Hindu refugees from Bangladesh.
Mitra has showcased the schemes with attractive names under the head, New Proposals, that bear out a method in the exercise. Of the seven new schemes (worth Rs 4,800 crore), three — Bandhu, Jai Johar and Chaa Sundari — are targeted towards the SC, ST/Adivasi population, while Karma Sathi and Bina Mulya Samajik Suraksha are meant for the unemployed youth and the unorganised workers.
While the Union Budget makes no mention about the unemployed youth, that state government promises loan assistance up to Rs 2 lakh each to 1,00,000 unemployment youth to help them start small businesses. Mitra, in his bid to boost the MSME sector — hardly hit by demonetisation and hasty introduction of GST by the Centre — has introduced an incentive scheme named Banglashree Prakalpa.
The Mamata government has also shown empathy towards the very poor electricity consumers known as lifeline consumers. Now, around 35 lakh such consumers shell out Rs 3.56 a month for 25 units of electricity at subsidised rates. The amount adds up to Rs 10.68 in their quarterly bills. The finance minister waived this amount with a promise that state will henceforth bear the amount under Hasir Alo scheme. Responding to reactions from CPM quarters that it was nothing compared to Arvind Kejriwal’s scheme in Delhi, the CM said: “How can you compare Delhi with Bengal? We have a huge population. Delhi is a small state.”
Like Bangla Shasya Bima, under which the state bears the entire crop insurance premium for farmers, Mitra has introduced Bina Mulya Samajik Suraksha for unorganised workers. Under this scheme, the state will bear their entire PF contributions. “There is scheme for the poor and disadvantaged from birth to death,” said the CM, calling it “a budget to meet people’s needs”.
Mitra pointed out that the state was taking care of the poor and the downtrodden despite a sharp devolution of funds from the Centre. “The shortfall on three counts is Rs 50,486 crore. Of the total shortfall, Rs 11,213 crore is in the form of tax, Rs 37,973 crore in the form of grants and Rs 1,300 crore on account of GST compensation,” he said. On the contrary, the state has exceeded its revenue target from Rs 65,546 in 2019-20 and has mopped up Rs 65,806 crore. He mentioned about the countrywide “stagflation” and the sluggish 5% GDP growth rate (the lowest in 11 years) and juxtaposed it with the five-time industrial growth in Bengal.
Source: Times of India