In a bid to reclaim lost ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general election last year, the West Bengal government Trinamool Congress (TMC) state Finance Minister Amit Mitra has announced welfare schemes pegged at around Rs. 4,000 crore for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state budget on Monday.
Ahead of the Assembly elections next year, Mitra announced the pension, social security and loan schemes, mostly for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the north Bengal and Jungle Mahal area, where the TMC performed poorly in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In 2014, while the TMC had won all seven seats in Jungle Mahal, in 2019 it won only two and the BJP won five. In northern Bengal, another battleground district of the TMC, the BJP had won just one seat in 2014 while the TMC won four. In 2019, however, the TMC won no seats while the BJP took away seven.
Mitra announced ‘Jai Johar’, a scheme where people above 60 years of age belonging to the Scheduled Tribe community who are not covered under any pension scheme, will be given a monthly pension of Rs. 1000.
In another scheme called ‘Bandhu Prakalpa’, people above 60 years of age, who belong to Scheduled Caste community and are not covered under any other pension scheme, will be given a monthly pension of Rs 1000.
A total of Rs. 3,000 crore has been earmarked for the two schemes.
“The pension schemes will benefit about 25 lakh people. With this, the state government will extend support to cent per cent persons over 60 of SCs and STs who are not covered by any other pension scheme,” said Mitra during the announcement.
He also announced Rs. 1,000 crore for the Karma Sathi Prakalpa and Bina Mulya Samajik Suraksha schemes which are for unemployed youths and workers from the unorganized sector respectively. The state government will also give sift loans of Rs. 2 lakh to unemployed youth ever year for three years under the Karma Sathi Prakalpa scheme.
Under the Bina Mulya Samajik Suraksha, state government will shoulder the entire burden of the social security scheme for workers in the unorganized sector where it hitherto was contributing Rs. 30 a month and the workers had to shell out Rs. 25 a month.
Following in the footsteps of the AAP government, making 35 lakh families direct beneficiaries, the TMC set aside Rs. 200 crore for a scheme called Hasir Alo, under which no electricity tariff would be levied on poor domestic consumers whose quarterly electricity consumption is less than 75 units.
‘Chai Sundari’, a scheme for tea garden workers that has been announced at a budget of Rs. 500 crore and set to benefit 3 lakh workers in 370 tea gardens in the state, talks of building houses for such permanent workers.
Taking a dig at the Modi-led Central government, Mitra said, “In the last eight years considerable work has been done by our government and economic reforms made under different social protection schemes for citizens. Even after repaying the huge burden of loan and at the same time persistent non-cooperation of the Central government, we have stood by the people of Bengal and we are determined to introduce various social development schemes for the citizens.”
Tweeting about the budget CM Mamata Banerjee said –
We have presented a people’s Budget without having to sell any of the state PSUs. Simultaneously, we’ve spread smiles across communities.
The Centre can, for a change, help make these smiles broader by working with the States.
We’ll let the people decide which Budget is better.
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) February 10, 2020
Post the budget, while some described the state FM as ‘Kolpotoru Mitra’, making reference to the wish-fulfilling tree, while others cautioned that the real test would lie in the delivery of those schemes.
A minister said, “The government has to be extremely cautious in the preparation of the lists of beneficiaries, particularly in the tribal-dominated areas where literacy rates are low.”
“Similar schemes with noble intentions had backfired in the same areas. Allegations of cut-money and other extortion tactics were leveled against Trinamool leaders. The same mistakes should not be repeated before the Assembly polls,” he added.
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, it was alleged that the local leaders of the TMC had been asking for ‘cut money’ for ensuring the delivery of the welfare funds to the common people.
The total state budget announced is for Rs. 255,677 crores for the year 2020-21.
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