Friday, November 26, 2010

Financial Crunch of West Bengal-An Analysis

It is already declared in the West Bengal state financial budget 2010-11, that the state economy is bearing a burden of debt of Rs. 1.69 lakhs Crores. But this can never be a rationale economic parameter to identify the state as a ‘bankrupt’. If so, then the central government had to declare more than a dozen of states as bankrupt far ago. At the end of the last financial year, the amount of entire debt formulated in stae economy was 1.69lakh crores. And the amount started to consolidate since 1950’s. it is also very important to state in this juncture that, when our state economy is bearing a burden of debt of Rs. 1.69lakh crores, at the same time Indian economy is bearing a burden of debt of Rs. 35lakhs crores too (Source : Central Financial Survey, 2009-10).

According to the available data of RBI (Feb 2010) West Bengal is holding the third place in the context of debt burden out of all the states in our country. Uttarpradesh is holding the first place with Rs. 2.21lakhs crores and Maharastra is following UP by 2.08 lakhs crores. Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are existing in the consecutive positions. But it is also pertinent to say, that as the amount of debt burden is varying among the states, the variations in income are also present within it. So the comparative study is done by debt-income ratio (GSDP). The RBI data reveals that , though West Bengal is holding the third place in the context of debt formation, but the state holds the 11th place in the country as well as 4th out of the large states in the country in terms of GSDP ratio.

Five years back, the GSDP ratio was 48% in the state, and, presently it decreased to 41%. But the data of GSDP ratio of Indian economy is fairly greater (56%) than our state economy in the same time frame.

It is very important to analyze the economic situation of our state economy now. The important feature of the debt formation in our state reveals that the major portion of it is generated from the micro savings schemes. Actually, the difference between the amount saved by the people of any state in post-office schemes in a specific financial year and the entire withdrawal out of it produces the debt of micro savings sector. For example, if in a a specific financial year if people save Rs 6,000 crores under micro savings scheme, and withdraw Rs.1,000 crores, then (6000crores-1000crores)= Rs. 5000crores is the net amount of debt generation under micro savings schemes. As bond papers of the micro savings schemes are provided by the central government, so essentially the burden goes to it. But according to the financial policy of our central government, the above said generation of debt is actually imposed on the corresponding state governments by the Central government. More than that, the state governments have to pay the rate of interest on this debt, which is 2% higher than that of the public rate of interest. To save the people of West Bengal from the traps of the Cheat Funds, the Left Front government started to emphasize on the micro savings schemes, and this is still going on by the declared principle of LF government in our state. Now West Bengal stands first in the country in the context of micro savings. This form of savings becomes boomerang in the form of debt to the states with more rate of interest. As the state governments do not limit on the amount of the small savings, so the amount of the debt is not also fixed by the concerned state governments. It is also seen that as Maharastra and UP is holding two highest position in the debt formation within the country, the advancement in micro savings schemes is much better in both those states.apart from micro savings the debt formation in the states depend on two more aspects- i) the state government bonds , ii) the deposits in the local funds.the states government bonds are usually purchased by the Public Sector Banks or by the Insurance companies. And the deposits in the local funds does not produce debt at all. The remitted or better to say the unspent amount of the Panchayats etc. are trated as the the debt of states by the mechanical procedure of of the central governments and the CAG. After repeated protests aginst this financial policy, the 13th Finance Commission started to impose a little lower rate of interest under micro saving schemes of the states than before.

The amount of debt of all states are fixed in the Planning Commission meeting by a uniform policy. The yardstick of measuring debt is, 3.5% of the gross revenue of corresponding state will be the amount of its debt. In this process the target is fixed 21,900 crores in this financial year. Out of which 15,500 crores can be earned by selling the bonds to the banks or insurance companies. But, West Bengal government has decided only to take Rs. 7,500crores out of the entire amount formed by selling the bonds. So at the end of this financial year, consolidation of debt may reach 10.92lakhs crores in our state. The borrowings will also decrease from this financial year too. One surprising statistics is pertinent in this context that, when GSDP ratio of our country is 56% now, the GSDP ratio is 80% for most of the advanced economies for several years.

If one feature of debt formation is due to the micro savings schemes, the important feature of state expenditure is to take the responsibility of paying salry and retirement benefit to all levels of teachers as well as the employee of the Panchayat and Municipalities. This expenditure is the part of beyond planned expenditure. Comparatively the other states do not take this responsibilities as well, even they have taken, it is purely partial.

In the current financial year the entire budgetary amount is Rs. 75,803 crores . Out of it the planned expenditure is 19,069crores. Rs. 56,744crores is the amount of beyond plan expenditure. If the expenditure in developmental activities (the total expenditure in social sector) are considered then the amount reached 42,000crores. Planned expenditure is a part of Developmental expenditure. Sometimes, the low allotment of planned expenditure of West Bengal comes into the unjustified debate of the oppositions. A comparative analysis is required to discuss upon this matter. In 1976-77 the planned expenditure of West Bengal was Rs.200crores under the Congress ruled government. In the periods of Left front Government the allotment increased in a continuous manner, in 2003-04 it reached 4,397crores, and in 2007-08 it reached up to 12,469crores, and in 2010-11 it is 19,069crores that implies , in the last 3 to 4 years it is enhanced by several times.

Most of the beyond plan expenditure is used to meet the salaries and the retirement benefits. In the time of 2nd Left Front Government it was decided that the state will take the responsibility to pay the salaries and retirement benefits to the State Government Employees, and the teachers from primary to university level, which is not at all practiced by most of the states. The salaries and other perquisites of the teachers are far increased than earlier days. Left Front Government has also taken the responsibility of paying salary and retirement benefits to the municipal as well as the Panchayat employees too. Presently total number of state government employees and teachers in our state is 4lakhs consecutively. Except it, there exists huge number of municipal and Panchayat employees. In each 7 to 8 years interval Central government restructures the pay scale. Taking all these factors the state government is now under a situation to take more financial responsibility than before.

The revenue side of the state government is also to be discussed with immense importance. It is expected in the state budget that VAT collection will be increased by18% and other taxes like stamp duty registration fee, excise fee will also icrease 15%. But in reality the VAT revenue increased 33% and stamp duty registration fees and excise duty increased by 40% and 21% respectively. So revenue earned more than that of the anticipative earnings. Computerization of tax collection resulted in a good note. West Bengal usually earns least from the wine industry in comparison to the relevant states in this particular sector. The excise duty earned by West Bengal is only 1,800crores. By selling only foreign liquor Andhra Pradesh is earning12,000crores. The government critically wants to deal the matter of reopening the wine shops in some publicly granted areas for further excise duty earnings considering the social issues relating with it. In this particular matter all party consensus is mostly needed. Introduction of VAT reduces the impact of tax evasion in the industries closely related with employment. Though Service sector is developing in West Bengal day by day, but still it is impossible to earn tax revenue from it. On the other hand, all the agro-products are out of the VAT and Sales Tax regime by the directives of the government. The rate of VAT on essential agricultural and industrial products is just 4%. When GST will be implied, state will definitely more than now.

All the problems are created due to the policy of the central government, which is full of disparities. According to the constitution of India, article 49&50 of State list depicts that state will have the right to collect the cess and will earn the royalty on coal sector. Since 1987 the rate of royalty increased five times but state did not receive the increased royalty ever. In this context, the amount of dues regarding royalty is generated by 4,800crores excluding the interest , which is still unpaid to the state by the central government. It is also important to note that, by the directives of 13th FC when the rate of interest on micro savings decreased by 2%, so by this way of evasion Rs. 700crores is still unpaid to the state by the central government. Regarding the imposition of GST, when it was decided that the inter state sales tax will be reduced by steps, then states will be given to power to impose some new taxes and an amout of subsidy will be given-on this very basis West Bengal is yet to receive Rs. 900crores from the central government. In the purpose of reconstruction regarding Ayla disaster Finance Commission allotted a scheme of Rs. 5,032crores, out of which Rs. 672State is still unpaid to the government for this financial year. Apart feom it central government did not disburse Rs. 776crores for drought recovery which was proposed by the National Disaster Management Commission under the recommendation of 13th Finance Commission. Summing up all these unpaid dues, West Bengal Government is yet to receive Rs. 7000crores from the Central government.

So to carry on the post drought financial processes and all the developmental activities in condition of huge dues , a financial problem is created in our state. In this perspective government of West Bengal has decided to reduce unnecessary unplanned expenditure by 10 % and to impose a 1% increase in VAT on the luxury goods excluding agro-products and raw materials used in agriculture and industry. It is expected that reduction in expenditure will definitely produce extra 1,000crores savings and the VAT increase will produce extra 200crores revenue earnings. It is an utopia that, State government will wipe out the all problems by receiving 7,000crores from the Central Government, but it will definitely help the state government easier to tackle this financial crunch. On the issue of overdraft, one thing has to be clear that, budgetary allocation is made for the one financial year. But in practice, the accounts of revenue earnings and expenditure is accounted in daily basis. The days, when revenue is greater than that of the expenditure, the extra amount is held by the state government in the form of treasury bills by the directives of RBI. The days, when expenditure becomes greater than than the revenue earnings within a limit, government has to take overdraft from RBI. In this year the number of days, where surplus generated is nearly 5 times greater than that of the days of the deficit.

It is also pertinent to note that in the year 2008-09 the deficit came to 3.8% in respect of income, but it raise up to 4.7% after restructuring of the pay scales. In the next year it will again fall up to 3.5%. Consisting the target of 8lakhs employment per year and maintaining all the production sectors unabated, government is highly optimistic to sail the economy smoothly, which in turn will reduce GSDP ratio. On the other hand it will increase VAT earnings. Implementation of GST will further benefit the state.


Bengal’s hopes ride on a pie in the sky


THE TELEGRAPH, Issue Date: Monday , November 15 , 2010

Calcutta, Nov. 14: Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta today dismissed Opposition allegations that the state was heading towards bankruptcy and claimed that a few favourable developments could “significantly” reduce the debt burden of the state, estimated at Rs 1.69 lakh crore at the end of the last fiscal year.

With the ratio of debt and gross state domestic product (GSDP) — value of goods and services produced in the state in a year — at 42.9 per cent (as of March 31, 2010), the debt burden of the state is the third highest in the country after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

“One cannot forget that the debt has been accumulating since the 1950s,” Dasgupta told The Telegraph this afternoon while pointing out that the same ratio for the Centre stood at 56 per cent.

“Net small savings collected in Bengal is the biggest part of the debt burden…. Our government had championed the cause of small savings to save people from chit funds,” added Dasgupta, sitting in his office in the Writers’ Buildings this afternoon and criticising the Centre’s policy of treating it as part of the state’s total debt.

The Trinamul Congress, the state’s main Opposition party, is crying itself hoarse over the rising debt burden of the state and has sought the governor’s intervention in Bengal’s money matters.

Of its total budget of over Rs 75,000 crore, the state spends around Rs 30,000 crore — part of a bigger non-plan expenditure bill — in paying salaries and pensions. (See chart)

Many believe that the high volume of salaries and wages — for over 4 lakh government employees and an equal number of teachers, from primary schools to universities — is one of the major reasons behind the fiscal mess.

“The Left government has its arguments for pursuing such a policy and there can be debates on the subject, but no other Indian state takes so much liability on paying salaries and wages of teachers,” said Ratan Khasnabis, professor of economics in Calcutta University’s business management department.

Amid the concerns over the sustainability of the debt burden, Dasgupta stressed that he was confident of bringing down the debt-to-GSDP ratio to around 30 per cent and ending the fiscal with lower borrowing than predicted in the budget.

He did not set any timetable for reaching the target but rolled out a set of likely favourable developments that would “significantly” bring down the debt burden.

Even as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated finance minister contested the use of the debt-to-GSDP ratio as a measure of the state’s indebtedness — the debt figure is cumulative while the GSDP measures a year’s performance — he was hopeful of a “few percentage points’ reduction” in the ratio.

“We will have a comfortable position as the debt component will continue coming down while the GSDP will keep growing at around 9 per cent,” said Dasgupta while explaining the central and state factors that would play a role in debt reduction.

The finance minister’s comfort depends largely on another Bengali at the helm of affairs in Delhi, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who, unlike Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee, has maintained silence on Bengal’s fiscal position.

According to Dasgupta, a staggered repayment of the Rs 7,000-crore due from the Centre, regular interest relief due on account of the state’s adherence to fiscal discipline, a rise in the state’s earnings on excise and value added tax, and reduction in wasteful expenditure will result in improvement in the ratio. (See chart)

These estimates — against the backdrop of over 33 per cent growth in VAT collections, 40 per cent growth in stamp duty mop-up and 21 per cent growth in excise earnings — will give his cabinet colleagues a chance to present a better fiscal future for the state.

Economists aware of Bengal’s finances, however, want to see the improvement first. Many of them also stress that the debt-to-GSDP ratio is a standard measure of indebtedness, that cumulative debt is a problem not unique to Bengal and that the rule of including small savings as part of debt affects all the states.

“One of the major components of the dues from the Centre is coal cess to the tune of Rs 4,883 crore, but the Centre has to agree to settle this claim. No other Indian state has any dispute over coal cess,” said M. Govinda Rao, director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

Insiders in the state government were also not hopeful of any central largesse on account of coal cess even as Dasgupta stressed that the Supreme Court had upheld the “constitutional validity of levy and collection of cess on coal-bearing land by the state government”.

The finance minister’s estimates of higher collection —through excise and VAT — and significant reduction in wasteful expenditure are “unreal”, said a government official.

“The target of saving Rs 1,200 crore by keeping a tab on expenses is unreal as we are less than five months from the end of this financial year. Additional earning of Rs 200 crore by increasing VAT by 1 per cent on non-essential and luxury items is not feasible as the festive season of buying is already over,” said the official.

Dasgupta’s other bet —higher excise collection from the existing level of Rs 1,505.64 crore — can turn into a political hot potato in an election year as it is linked to higher sale of alcoholic beverages. The finance minister is hoping for an all-party consensus on allowing opening up of liquor shops to shore up revenues — Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have excise revenues in excess of Rs 9,000 crore — but that seems to be a distant dream.

“This government pursued stringent policies on opening of liquor shops for over 25 years. Now it is very difficult to suddenly increase the number of liquor shops across the state,” said a senior official.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Importance of Left Front Government is immense: Chief Minister

June 21, 2010. The Left Front Government in West Bengal turned 34. On the occasion, state Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in an interview, answered several questions on varied topics pertaining to the state’s development as well as the Left Front Government’s contributions to it. The text of the Chief Minister’s interview follows.

Q: The Left Front Government steps on to its 34th year. The seventh Left Front Government has completed its 4th year. Could you focus on the main features of the socio-economic change that has been brought about in the life of people in the state by the Left Front Government in 33 years?

Ans: The Left Front Government has been able to make a qualitative change in the life of people in this state in 33 years. The main socio-economic features of this change may be summed up in the following manner.

In rural areas, the standard in the life of the poor farmers has changed radically because of the land reforms and the panchayat system as a whole. The most important factor is that their purchasing power has increased.

The demand for industrial commodities equivalent to nearly 27,000 crore has been generated. Market for consumer goods has expanded in rural as well as urban areas alike. Sale of items, ranging from garments, shoes, umbrellas, medicines, foodstuff to television, telephone, mobile phones and computers have phenomenally multiplied both in Kolkata and in the rest of the state.

Literacy has gained wide ground. The scope of education has expanded from the primary level to the university level. This is a significant aspect of human resources development. Health is another important factor. The state has crested to peak of success in the country in so far as its position in the determination of life and death ratio, increase in average life span, and reduction in the rate of infant mortality is concerned.

A widespread change is perceptible in the spate of urbanization also. This process of urbanisation has been carried forward by Siliguri-Jalpaiguri, Durgapur-Asansol, Bolpur-Santiniketan, Haldia, Digha, Midnapore Development Authorities. The Rajarhat Township is coming up following Bidhannagar. There are 127 municipal bodies in the state. The state is among the leaders in building up the urban infrastructure.

Q: How do you perceive the four years of the seventh Left Front government? This government was formed with a massive mandate in its favour by projecting the slogan, 'Agriculture is our base and industry our prospect'. How much success have you achieved to put it into action?

Ans: 'Agriculture is our base and industry our prospect' is not a mere slogan. It is a well-contemplated holistic approach. It will never be possible to bring about further economic development in the state in future if we fail to stride forward on the vehicle of industrial growth by consolidating our agricultural achievement. Everyone realises the potential urgency in this fact. This is the only alternative before our educated young generation. We could only initiate the process braving many obstacles. It is an inevitable pre-condition of the state's passage onto the next economic stage. In that sense, we could only initiate.

Q: It was mentioned in the Left Front election manifesto during the last polls that the achievements of land reforms would be consolidated and the unfinished programmes in regard to land reforms would be delivered with finishing touches within the framework of the system. How much, do you think, has the seventh Left Front government been able to follow up? What are the future plans of the state government?

Ans: It is very urgent to consolidate the success of the land reforms. A total of 11.277 lakh acres of land have been allotted to poor and marginal farmers. A total of 15.33 lakh bargadars have been registered. It is important to keep these lands under the possession of poor farmers as these land yield bumper crops, and if production increases gradually, the income of the farmers gets enhanced. Our unfinished job is to distribute litigation-free plots of land among the landless farmers. We are at it. Our future plan is to offer homestead land measuring up to 5 cottah to the homeless by augmenting the provisions of the laws of 1975 to 2009. We have started doing it. About 2 lakh families will be benefited. We have one more programme to cover. We shall obtain lands from willing sellers, buy those plots with a premium of 25 per cent over the market rate and distribute the same among the landless poor. We would like to carry forward the land reform programme along this line of action.

Q: How much, do you think, West Bengal could fare in agricultural aspect?

Ans: The picture of success in agricultural development is clear. We are the leaders in production of rice (148 lakh MT), jute (7872.6 ton), vegetables (119 lakh MT) in the country. Our achievements are no less remarkable in production of fruits and flowers. We have been trying to extend the area under irrigation especially in the arid western region of the state. We have attached importance to the factors like procuring advanced quality seeds, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides etc so that production can be made more bountiful and intensive. We have some problem areas too regarding the productions of pulses, oil seeds and wheat. These fall short of the demand. We have to strike at it urgently.

Q: It is a fact that investments up to 7060 crore and 40 lakh have been made in 2009 in the large and medium scale industries in West Bengal despite economic recession. How do you account for this success despite many obstacles?

Ans: This figure of investment, i.e.,7060 crore and 40 lakh is very rejuvenating in recent times. We are recovering from the ill effects of recession of 2008 in tandem with the rest of the country. This also proves that the events that occurred in Singur and Nandigram are stray exceptions. The process of industrialisation will continue. No one can stop it.

Q: What is our state's performance in agro-based industries? What are the future plans?

Ans: A larger portion of the investments that have been made in recent times has gone to the food-processing sector. Most of the industrial units, which grew up at various places-pineapple processing at Siliguri, mango at Malda, potato at Howrah-Hooghly-are either small or medium in size. There are wider prospects for more such industries if we can improve our infrastructure and ensure a steady supply of raw materials.

Q: What are the plans of the Left Front government for the future development of industries concertedly with the achievements of agriculture?

Ans: The first task for the growth of industries in the state is to sort out all the land-related problems. It is not our intent to acquire fertile agricultural land. We have worked out a land-use map in the state. We have particularised and specified matters related to compensation for land and rehabilitation packages, by dint of which more than 6000 acres of land have been acquired in recent times for industrial use. We have bettered the incentive schemes of the state government. We have been striving to fulfill the demands for roads, communication, power, water supply etc as infrastructural amenities in this regard. Proposals for setting up industries including those of steel, fertilizers, petrochemicals etc are rushing in. Information technology also enjoys similar investment-friendliness. A plan has been taken up to form nearly 38 clusters of medium and small industries. We have to move forward to this direction.

Q: It was stated in 2006 that steps would be taken to increase the number of Self-Help Groups to 10 lakh during the next five years. The number has now exceeded the stipulation and it now stands at 10 lakh 46 thousand. Your observation please.

Ans: The self-help groups may be termed as micro enterprises.SHGs are a boon to those who have reached a stage of positional marginality, especially women, owing mainly to the romping market economy. To keep those groups lively and more developed, we are maintaining a key watch on three matters: (1) training for male and female beneficiaries, (2) ensuring bank loans for them and (3) opening up opportunities for marketing their produce. We have been giving thought to the idea of extending the activities of SHGs to newer horizon, i.e., procuring paddy grains and making rice out of it, dealing in vegetables, eggs, fish or meat as these have a secure market. These SHGs will rise to the occasion and contribute significantly to the State economy in the days to come.

Q: What are the steps that the government proposes to adopt in order to improve power generation?

Ans: In order to improve the power situation, maintenance of stations in more sophisticated method has been prioritised so that the plant load factor can be improved gradually. The major problem we face is that many of the power-generating stations, like Santaldihi, Bandel etc, have been outdated. It is now urgent to set up new power-generating stations without delay. The Bakreswar as well as the Sagardihi Thermal Power Stations are in the process of construction. We have recently decided that there would be a mega project at Katwa in collaboration with BHEL. Another joint venture power project with NTPC is on the cards at the present site of Santaldihi. Our aim is to ensure steady supply of power with its total demand statewide in perfect conjugality.

Q: What are the obstacles for rural electrification? Why is it so sluggish even after repeated instructions from your side? Are you satisfied with the role played by the central power transmission agencies?

Ans: The job of rural electrification is on progress. Our endeavour is also on to accelerate the process. A few developments have taken place recently. The work of central power transmission agencies is more satisfactory than before. We do hope that we shall be able to reach our goal within a year.

Q: A propaganda is in the air that West Bengal has lagged behind in education during the Left Front rule. Your opinion please.

Ans: The state's advancement in education is obvious. Some of its remarkable features are: the rate of school-going children at the primary level is 99.25 per cent; the number of Madhyamik (secondary) schools is more than 10 thousand (including junior high schools and MSKs); the number of Madrasah is 581; the number of degree colleges is 429; there are 18 Universities; the number of students appearing for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations has increased manifold; West Bengal enjoys a frontranking position in the competitive examinations for recruitment of teachers at the national level.

Q: What are your plans for further advancement in education? What is the state's progress report in vocational/technical, technological and research-oriented higher education?

Ans: Our forthcoming objective is to attain universal literacy and emphasise more on vocational as well as technical education.At present our state has 89 ITIs, 57 polytechnic centres and about 4000 vocational training centres to its credit. Our target is to increase the number of these centres. 50 more ITIs and about 29 polytechnics are coming up. Our aim is to bring all children onto the threshold of education, expand the scope for technical education and set up centres of excellence to encourage researches in the field of higher education.

Q: What is your vision about the health services in the state for the days to come? Are you satisfied with the mode of treatment, services and sensible work culture in government hospitals? What is the future plans?

Ans: We aim at preserving our achievements in the field of health services, especially in matters related to life and death ratio, child mortality, average life span etc. We emphasise on implementing preventive health programmes such as nutrition, sanitation, drinking water,extensive inoculation programmes and to implement family planning programmes. We cater to the medical needs of 72 per cent of our population through the existing government hospitals. The doctors, nurses and health workers carry out their assignments under immense pressure at sub-division, district hospitals as well as in medical colleges. But yes, there is room to make the health services more responsive. Our future plan for government hospital services is to extend its areas of application, encourage private hospitals and to translate the PPP model into reality.

Q: What are the priorities of your government at this moment?

Ans: The priority list may be mentioned in the manner as follows: a) to carry forward the achievements of agriculture on the basis of land reforms. b) to accelerate the pace of industrialisation. c) to elevate our success in the fields of education, health etc for human development in general. d) to attach an all-out importance to matters related to socio-economic development of people belonging to scheduled castes, adivasis and minorities.

Q: The question of backwardness in Jangalmahal areas has been raised from various corners. What is your opinion? What does the government plan to combat ultra-leftist terrorism?

Ans: The question of underdevelopment is being alluded to as the only reason behind the Maoist problems. This is not true. Maoists have chosen this region because it has an inaccessible topographical feature somewhat like the infested parts of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa or Jharkhand because the place is fit for the politics of violence pursued by the Maoists. But this is also true that Jangalmahal is backward to a degree in comparison to other areas of the state. We had implemented the land reforms programme much before the Maoist disturbance broke out in the region. Poor farmers were offered with plots of land, there have been Barga registrations. Programmes for creating employment opportunities are still being pursued. The LAMPS organisations consisting of tribal people have been working in order to consolidate the forest resources such as Kendu leaves, Sal leaves, Babui grass etc. We are paying close attention to supply of water for irrigation, drinking water, education, health and public distribution system. Instead of considering it only as a law and order issue, we are careful about the socio-economic development, we are attaching importance to political campaign alongside police action in the area.

Q: Achievements of the Left Front government in regard to minority development, their security and their rights is worthy of a mention. However, some misunderstanding still persists. What steps would you like to take to resolve this issue?

Ans: On the minority issue, the leftists waged relentless struggle for a long time on the question of their security and rights. The land reforms programme in the state benefited a large portion of minority population in rural areas. But confusion was created after the publication of the Sachar Committee report. The main question revolves around nominal participation of minorities in government services. Historically, they are backward. The policy of the Left Front government is not to deprive the minorities. The government is implementing a number of projects on education and training to minimise the existing gap so that the young generation of the minorities gets equal opportunities and can progress.

Q: How important is the reservation for minority Muslims?

Ans: Reservation was necessary for the Minorities. The Constitution guarantees reservation for the SC, ST and OBCs. But the economically backward Minorities do not enjoy the same provisions. We paid much thoughts and deliberations to this issue to no avail. We could only initiate bravely after the Ranganath Mishra Committee findings were published. It is not on the basis of religion; they are being brought under the cover of reservation in view of their socio-economic conditions as such. It was long overdue.

Q: The negative effects of the neo-liberal economic policy pursued by the union government are hanging on common people. But how this policy is affecting the pro-people programmes of the Left Front government in West Bengal?

Ans: The state is surely affected by the negative economic policy of the union government. The whole country, particularly the downtrodden people, is reeling under its pressure. We cannot be immune from problems like downsizing of staff strength, inflation, price-rise etc pursued by the union government. These are the main obstacles in the way of implementing our own policies.

Q: Can the Left Front government demonstrate an alternative path to safeguard the people of the state in this situation?

Ans: It is difficult for a state government to be free from these constraints. Still we are advancing in search of an alternative. We are trying to open up areas pertaining to land reforms, employment opportunities, infrastructure building, imparting emphasis on small and medium size industries, SHGs and service sectors.

Q: An environment of unanimity in developmental programme is eluding the state despite best efforts of the state government because of the cold shoulder attitude of the main Opposition party. What in these circumstances is the option open to you to get along the path of development?

Ans: We are trying repeatedly to build consensus on development programmes. But one Opposition party is not cooperating. We shall continue our efforts. We expect that the Opposition will play a responsible role.

Q: How the state government is trying to bring back a democratic ambience in Darjeeling? How much hopeful are you about that? How would you see the role of the state government in the development of the standard of living of the people and economic boost of the people in the hills after the formation of the Hill Council?

Ans: The situation at Darjeeling is very difficult and complicated. It is a very tough job to establish democracy there and to maintain law and order in the midst of intense violent political situation. But we have been trying. People of the hill areas are also realizing the fact that rights of the Opposition parties, citizens’ rights and rights of all institutions have to be protected. The state government has always extended the hand of cooperation on the questions of development of quality of life and economic development in the hills. But a possible development could not have been materialized because of lack of consistency and administrative failure on the part of the Hill Council authorities.

Q: How much important is the Left Front government in protecting the hard-earned democratic rights of the common people, especially the working people, middle-class service-holders and the teaching community as well as students, youths and women at large?

Ans: The country was at a crossroad at the time of formation of the Left Front government in West Bengal in 1977. The whole country had just got rid of the oppression of the Emergency; the black days were removed in this state also. The first Left Front pronounced release of all political prisoners. The provision of detention without trial was repealed and the state machinery got refrained from interference in democratic rights. Trade unionism, individual rights, freedom of press and above all human rights have been upheld in the state for three decades at a stretch. Considering all, none can deny this contribution of the Left Front government. In this matter, the importance of the Left Front Government, even now, is immense.


(Reproduced from a state government publication)