Kolkata: In its last full budget before elections, the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government Monday announced a slew of populist schemes and freebies ahead of assembly elections scheduled for 2021.
Most of the announced schemes, directly or indirectly, pay cash to the beneficiary accounts.
The state government announced a pension scheme for the elderly of the SC and ST communities that is expected to cost the exchequer Rs 3,000 crore. The scheme allows a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 for senior citizens belonging to the SC and ST community.
Apart from this, the Mamata government has sought to replicate the Aam Aadmi Party’s governing template in Delhi, by announcing free electricity and free housing for families of low income groups.
In all, the debt-stressed West Bengal government, which has at least Rs 50,000 crore pending as grants and other funds from the central government, has drawn up a budget of Rs 2.56 lakh crore for the 2020-21 fiscal — at least 7 per cent more than its previous budget.
Schemes for senior citizens and unemployed
State’s Finance Minister Amit Mitra introduced new pension schemes for the elderly of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). Around Rs 2,500 crore has been allocated for the pension scheme for SCs, titled ‘Bandhu Prakalpa’. It will provide Rs 1,000 to those from the community above 60 years of age and not covered by any other pension scheme.
In a similar scheme for the ST Community, titled ‘Jai Johar Prakalpa’, the government has allocated Rs 500 crore.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has also allocated Rs 500 crore towards a social security scheme targeting unorganised workers in construction, transport and other sectors. The scheme will be fully funded by the state government, which will make a monthly payment of Rs 55 per beneficiary, thereby covering health insurance premiums, compensation for accident benefits, any other free health benefits, among others.
This scheme replaces an existing one where the beneficiaries made a monthly contribution of Rs 25 and the state government paid an additional Rs 30 per month.
Free Electricity and Housing
Taking lessons from the AAP in Delhi, the state government has introduced a ‘free electricity’ scheme for the economically weaker sections. Under the ‘Hasir Alo’ scheme, no electricity tariff will be charged on customers whose quarterly consumption is less than 75 units. The government has set aside Rs 200 crore for the initiative.
In another scheme, targeted at the around four lakh tea garden workers of North Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress suffered hugely in the general elections, the government has proposed to provide housing facilities to workers of around 370 tea gardens under the ‘Chaa Sundari Scheme’. The scheme is expected to cost the exchequer Rs 500 crore.
The populist measures have drawn the ire of the opposition.
“The ruling party has lost the people’s support. And that is why they have now started distributing money,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said. “They are bribing people for votes.”
Abdul Mannan, a senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the assembly, said that the budget was an attempt to “mislead people and a statistical jugglery”.