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Millennium Post

Mamata still bats for aam admi

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s spartan home in Kalighat’s Harish Chatterjee Street has not changed one wee bit. She still travels by the same car, wears no make up and that white taant sari and rubber chappals have become a symbol of her humble roots and simple lifestyle – perhaps in the manner that Mahatma Gandhi’s loin cloth and chappals had become a symbol of his protest against British oppression a century ago. Small wonder then that the Press Council of India Chairman Markandeya Katju pronounced after visiting Banerjee last week, 'Her integrity is beyond doubt. She is from a very ordinary family and lives a very simple life… she is free from corruption'.

In the one year that Banerjee has spent at the helm of the state government, she has also proved that she is still capable of being the 'fearless political leader' [Katju] that dislodged the CPI(M) from power after its long 34 year stint in Bengal. Her pre-poll promise of returning the fertile, three-crop land to the unwilling farmers of Singur, acquired for building the Tata Nano's plant, remains unchanged today as her resistance towards forcible land acquisition. 'We are waiting for the Calcutta High Court’s judgment on the Singur case. The process of returning the land will begin as soon as the case is disposed of', she reiterates in the booklet released on completing a year in government. Didi (christened by the public) obviously hasn’t forgotten the farmers’ struggle of 2006-2007 in Singur, which played a crucial role in shaking up the agrarian support-base of the CPI(M) prior to the Parliamentary and Assembly polls of 2009 and 2011. Historian Gautam Bhadra however feels that 'it would have been easier for Mamata to get more compensation for the farmers than return the land which is still fraught in legal battles with the Tatas'. Banerjee however seems keen on being seen as a champion of the farmers and the deprived classes – a people’s princess.

There are other early signs of things to come. The manner in which the Trinamool Congress government cracked down on the 'mighty' Todis – owners of AMRI hospital where 91 patients died in a major fire in December last year – proves that industrialists who enjoyed unlimited patronage and protection of the CPI(M) government for decades would not be pampered and protected by the new government any longer. Local leaders like Lakshman Seth who assumed unlimited power and wealth under CPI(M) patronage also faced the music once Banerjee came into power and is now behind bars. Ditto for Susanta Ghosh and his bag of skeletons – the CPI(M) strongman was recently arrested and is facing a legal suit for his misdeeds during the CPI(M) regime.

Though at the receiving end of media flak on some occasions like the Park Street rape incident or the arrest of a professor over a cartoon controversy, Mamata seems to have paid heed to the adage 'work more and talk less' (katha kam, kaaj beshi) during her fledgling government’s first year in power. And the aam admi from the village certainly tops the list of her priorities rather than a handful of populist measures which most new governments flaunt after being sworn in. A system of spot payment for 100 day’s work scheme is being evolved by her government, ensuring that the benefits reach the poor. Kissan credit cards, crop insurance and fertiliser subsidy are being delivered along with incentives for farmers growing jute. Says one of the senior TMC ministers in the United Progressive Alliance government, Sisir Adhikari, 'There has been record production of rice in Bengal this year and over Rs 200 crore spent in each district on the 100 day work scheme.' In fact, a pleased Pranab Mukherjee had even announced recently that the states of Eastern India could well be on the path of another 'green revolution'.

In the health sector too, which had seen its nadir towards the end of the Left rule, Mamata is trying hard to deliver the goods. She has committed to developing 25- 26 hospitals in the districts which will be capable of handling super-critical illnesses. More beds in the children’s wards in the city and district hospitals are in the pipeline. 'Infant mortality is already showing signs of decline in the state. The pathetic condition in which children are being brought in to the hospitals for treatment is worrying. We have to look into social problems like early marriage and child-birth, malnutrition among young mothers in order to stem crib deaths', says Banerjee in her document. A new multi-speciality hospital in Durgapur in collaboration with the acclaimed Devi Shetty’s Narayana Hrudayalaya was also recently founded by Banerjee in an effort to step up healthcare facilities in the state. And in a gesture that took many by surprise, Banerjee did drop by at a few state-run hospitals for a reality check just after she became chief minister last May.

However if there is one thing that the chief minister is pleased about, it is her role in ringing in peace in the hills and in Jangalmahal or the Maoist-infested districts. 'There is a new thrust on tourism in some areas in the hills. We are boosting the tourism infrastructure first,' she says in the booklet. Banerjee managed to sign a three-way peace treaty with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the central government and the state government last year.

If there is anything that is troubling her young government though, it is the lack of financial health – and the heavy outgo on interest repayment of loans incurred by the CPI(M) government. 'We are spending 94 paise out of every one rupee on loan repayment and salaries. So despite good intentions, we are not being able to do as much work as we want to. Still we are trying our level best,' she rues, thanking the people of Bengal for their support and urging them to stick by her side. Her appeal to the UPA government for granting a three year moratorium on interest repayment may however see a favourable response before the current session of Parliament ends, said a senior TMC MP.


PARIBORTAN - AND HOW!


West Bengal’s first woman chief minister Mamata banerjee has just completed a year in government. Here’s a take on what she did and undid:

UPS

- Singur Land Rehab and Development Bill signed by the govt. becomes an Act. Now Mamata can return the land she promised to return to farmers of Singur -20 June 2011
- Tripartite agreement between central govt, state govt and Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha – seen by many as a move towards making peace with the hills – 18 July 2011
- Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill 2011 passed in Assembly - 2 September 2011
- Judicial inquiry into Sainbari massacre – allegedly orchestrated by CPI(M) leaders in early 70s, begins - 30 December 2011
- Shah Rukh Khan becomes Bengal’s brand ambassador - 13 Feb 2012
- Mamata announces 50 per cent reservation of panchayat seats for women - 28 March 2012
- No forced land acquisition – state government to form land bank - June 4 & 27 May 2011
- Hospital in Durgapur in partnership with Devi Shetty’s Narayana Hrudayalay announced - 24 March 2012
- First meeting of Bengal IT expert committee headed by Pitroda including Narayan Murthy - 2 September 2011
- State named Paschimbanga - 2 September 2011
- Kolkata police to administer all 141 wards under KMC - 25 May 2011
- 300 new colleges and 10 universities announced in five years - 21 June 2011
- Kanoria Jute mill reopens - 22 August 2011
- Film city on 350 acre plot founded in Uttarpara - 7 August 2011
- Govt announces 25 new super-speciality hospitals in district towns on PPP model - 2 October 2011
- Govt announces Rs 26,000 crore package including power plant for Nayachar - 3 November 2011
- Orders for six neo-natal care units at B C Roy, Bangur + 4 more district hospitals - 24 December 2011
- Age bar for entering govt service raised to 40 for general, 43 for OBCs and 45 for SC/ST - 30 December 2011
- Industrial land will not be used for real estate - 19 July 2011
- Cheap rice scheme for Jangalmahal - 22 July 2011

DOWNS

- Joint operation against Maoists continues - 15 November 2011
- Transfer of Joint Comm (Crime) Damayanti Sen and CM’s stance on Park Street rape case criticised - 4 April 2012
- Arrest of JU professor for cyber-cartoon earned her govt negative publicity - 13 April 2012
- Decision to exclude major newspapers from subscription list of state-owned libraries seen as censorship of the press by critics - 28 March 2012
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