Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thirty Years of Left Front Government in West Bengal

Chief Minister, West Bengal
21 June,2007

The Left Front Government in West Bengal has been in office for the last thirty years since its first installation on June 21, 1977. The uninterrupted tenure of this government elected by the people of the state for seven consecutive terms is a significant event in the history of world democracy.
West Bengal is free from religious intolerance, caste conflicts and ethnic
tensions. The state has a glorious tradition of communal harmony.
The people of West Bengal take special care for strengthening the
democratic secular polity of our country.

The Left Front Government in West Bengal is committed to
pursuing an alternative path of development aiming
at raising the common man’s standard of living. We have been
implementing schemes and programmes to mitigate
the hardship of the economically backward and middle class people.
West Bengal has made significant strides in several directions over
the last three decades. Thirty years ago, our government initiated
land reform measures. The major emphasis was placed on the
redistribution of ceilingsurplus land to landless poor agricultural
labourers. It was also decided to ensure the rights of sharecroppers.
As a result of land reforms, small and marginal farmers now own 84%
of the total agricultural land in West Bengal.

More than 55% of the beneficiaries belong to SCs, STs and
the minorities. The programme titled ‘Operation
Barga’ has been successfully implemented and the names
of a large number of sharecroppers have been registered
in the record-of-rights relating to agricultural land in the state.
In 1978, West Bengal set up its newly oriented panchayat bodies
following the electoral commitment of the
Left Front. Since then panchayats in our state, provided with
decentralised powers, have been playing a very
important role in building rural public assets and in executing
development schemes and projects in the countryside.
We have taken steps to strengthen the institutional capacities
of our panchayat bodies. Our efforts are being
directed towards improving gender equity and social inclusions.
Our panchayats are also discharging their
responsibilities in empowering women and in providing
elementary education in various areas along with
promoting public health and livelihood options.
The total number of self help groups (SHGs) in West
Bengal is now 5.3 lakh. These SHGs comprise 53 lakh
members of whom 90% are women. The rural sanitation
programme is progressing well in our state. Seventy four
per cent of the rural households have now access to
sanitation facilities. A number of gram panchayats and
panchayat samities have been awarded Nirmal Gram Puraskar
by the Government of India. The land reform measures and
the activities of panchayats in West Bengal have brought about
remarkable changes in the quality of life for the people of the
state’s rural sector. The effect of land distribution has been
reflected in the increase of foodgrain production. Irrigation
facilities have been enhanced. Seeds and other inputs
of cultivation are being provided to the peasants. The total
foodgrain production, mainly rice, has been steadily
increasing. Fish production, too, has reached new heights.
West Bengal holds the top position in the inland fisheries
sector. The purchasing power of the rural people of West
Bengal has significantly gone up resulting in the increasing
demand for industrial goods.
Now, the state government is laying stress on the second
stage of rural development programmes.
Agri-business has been identified as one of the key areas of
development in West Bengal. The state is now developing five
agriexport zones, food parks, cold chain and other forms of infrastructure.
A modern multi-food processing unit set up by
the Dabur in North Bengal has been functioning.
Frito-Lay India has established a food processing unit in the district
of Howrah. Our government is striving hard to sustain its success
on the agricultural front. Based on the significant growth in the
agricultural sector, West Bengal is moving fast to accelerate the pace
of its industrial development. It is now recognised as one of the
leading states of India in respect of industrial
investment. The economic environment of West Bengal
is conducive to the promotion of manufacturing and
knowledge-based industries. The economy of West Bengal has
been growing at an average rate of more than 8% per annum for the last
few years. The state offers vast opportunities for investment
in areas such as iron and steel, chemicals and
petrochemicals, IT and IT -enabled services, gem and
jewellery, leather, engineering, agri-business, biotechnology,
real estate, health services and tourism. The facilities of
West Bengal include the availability of
raw materials, an advantageous location, a good network
of communications, low cost of operations, a sound
agricultural base, a large and concentrated market, and
a good pool of human capital and skills. The state
government has been pursuing an industry-friendly policy.

For the last five years the annual industrial investment
in West Bengal has been more than Rs. 2,000 crore.
West Bengal’s growth in some sectors deserves special
mention. In the chemical and petrochemical
sector, three major units, namely Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd.,
Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation’s PTA
plant and South Asia Petrochemicals have been working
successfully for the last few years. Japan’s
single largest FDI in India has been made through
Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation’s PTA plant (MCCPTA)
at Haldia. In West Bengal, the iron and steel industry is
regarded as one of the thrust areas of growth. West Bengal is a
major leather-producing state. The newly set-up Kolkata
Leather Complex offers modern facilities for the
development of leather-related activities including tanning,
manufacturing and designing. The West Bengal
government is also concentrating on promoting micro &
small scale enterprises and textiles.
The state government
is spearheading many initiatives and partnerships to develop
West Bengal as the regional commercial hub of the
east. Our government is stepping up efforts to develop the
infrastructure sector. At present, the power position in the
state is stable. We are proceeding with our plans for creating
significant power capacity addition under the state
sector. Thre new satellite townships, world-class expressways,
ports, a sea-port, a logistics hub, construction of
roads and bridges are some of the important initiatives undertaken
by us. It is necessary to appreciate the fact that
the state government alone cannot develop, upgrade, and
maintain the infrastructure sector. We believe that the
public-private partnership can harmoniously work to offer
adequate infrastructure facilities. We have already taken
several effective initiatives in this area.
Our state, though a late starter in the field of information
technology, has achieved remarkable growth over the
last decade. At the moment, there are more than 250 IT
companies which are providing direct employment to over
50,000 professionals. These companies registered export
earnings of over Rs. 3,500 crore in the financial year
ending March, 2007. The IT industries of West Bengal
are also creating jobs in the support service sector, housing
projects, infrastructure etc. West Bengal today is the home
to most leading names in the IT sector including TCS,
Wipro, IBM, Cognizant, PWC, HCl, Genpact, Skytech, Siemens,
HSBC etc. Both foreign and domestic IT
companies are operating in the state to contribute to its economy.
The Department of Information Technology has been constantly
striving to attract high-end IT companies,
KPOs and BPOs to the state to generate more employment
and increase export revenues. It is our vision to emerge
among the top 3 states contributing around 15% to 20% of
the total revenues generated by this sector in the country.
The government is trying to focus on high-end and VLSI
industry and to develop satellite IT hubs in towns such as
Siliguri, Durgapur, Kalyani, Kharagpur and Haldia. While
IT parks on PPP model have already been launched at
Siliguri and Durgapur, efforts are being made to develop
an advanced IT park near the lIT at Kharagpur.
In the sphere of education, our state is making progress
in spreading universal and free elementary education.
We have accorded priority to the implementation of the
Sarba Siksha Mission programme. A mass literacy
programme has been continuing in the state over the
years. West Bengal has achieved 75% literacy. Stress is
being laid on extending technical education schemes and
vocational training programmes. Computer education
has been introduced in the state on a fairly large scale.
The number of schools has increased, and at the same time,
the dropout rate is decreasing. The mid-day meal programme
in schools is being carried out with the participation
of all concerned. In new areas, colleges are being set up,
and the growing number of students passing out from
these institutions indicates the gradual improvement of
our educational standards. Several universities with special
orientations such as law, engineering, medicine, technology
and animal and fishery sciences have been set up to
meet the needs of a large number of students. All other
well-known universities of the State have been functioning
creditably. The University of Calcutta has completed its
150 years of existence. We are setting up some centres
of excellence at the higher education level. Kolkata occupies
an important place in the history of science education
and research in India. Our state has the distinction of having
a number of internationally reputed scientific research
institutes. The Indian Institute of Science Education and
Research, Kolkata, recently inaugurated by Prime Minister
Dr. Manmohan Singh, is a significant addition to the sphere
of higher education and research in West Bengal. Our
state is internationally acclaimed as a seat of culture.
We must keep alive the cultural tradition of West Bengal.
West Bengal has a comprehensive healthcare system.
The state government caters to the healthcare needs of
72% of the people. Recently, we have taken a number of
steps to improve the condition of these state-run hospitals
and health centres. Special care is being taken to improve
the quality of the primary health centres in the state. We
are concentrating on improving the health infrastructure.
We are implementing and promoting different programmes
to serve the interests of scheduled castes, scheduled
tribes, other backward classes and hill people. The minority
sub-plan is being introduced in the State.
West Bengal has a pioneering role in providing unemployment
benefits to the workers of locked-out
industries. The scheme, introduced in 1998, now provides
the financial assistance of Rs. 750 per month to
every worker of the registered factories and plantations
that are locked out. We have already launched a scheme
of provident fund for the workers of the unorganised sector
of the state. Some schemes are being implemented for
the welfare of the building and other construction workers of the state.
It is incumbent on us to step up the all-round development
of West Bengal. We have to create more employment
opportunities. Thousands of young men and women are
seeking jobs. They will shape the future of our country.
We cannot fail them. We must try our best to live up to
the people’s expectations.

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