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.
'WEST BENGAL' JULY 2010
(Reproduced from a state government publication)