Millennium Post

Rebuilding brand Bangla

With Lok Sabha polls approaching, the West Bengal government is laying special stress on speeding up rural development projects.

For once, the state government, which usually loses no opportunity to adopt a contrarian approach to any proposal or directive from the centre, has fallen in line with Delhi’s suggestion to monitor more closely the mandatory ‘100 days work’ scheme. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh recently instructed  states to ensure that payment  made in the scheme was not based on  physical attendance alone, but on the quantum of  actual work done on road building, or pond digging projects.

Complaints had been received that the creation of fresh permanent assets to help develop the rural economy had not really occurred, despite the large financial outlays on the project. In most states, people had often  been paid for  mere attendance! Ramesh expressed concern over the trend, which suggested that welfare was being misused for political purposes.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata  Banerjee, addressing a  public meeting at Plassey  in Nadia district, almost  echoed Ramesh’s words. She urged upon officers to ensure that local schemes drawn up by panchayat and other authorities were properly implemented.   She exhorted local people as well as officers to work hard to ensure  local development and progress, adding that there would never be a shortage of funds.

At another meeting she said that out of a population of around 90 million, over 30 million people, constituting the poorer segment, were currently buying rice at a subsidised  price of Rs 2 a kilo, as promised by her government.

The state government has been pilloried by economists and the political opposition for resorting to subsidies at the expense of taxpayers, but has not changed what it called its pro-poor policy.

Ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders claim that the approach had brought home  rich dividends already. In Panchayat and even urban civic elections, the TMC had trounced  its opposition including the CPI(M), the Congress and the BJP.  It was confidently looking forward to winning between 30 to 36 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. Opposition parties were in disarray, with  many people deserting their old parties tom join the TMC in large numbers. The NaMo factor  did not seem to matter.

In the sphere of governance too, the law and order situation in North Bengal and Darjeeling areas as well as the Maoist-dominated Jangalmahal districts in the South,  has improved remarkably during the TMC rule. These areas had been written off by the erstwhile Left front, which had even withdrawn its police personnel from Jangalmahal areas, not to mention the Darjeeling hills. Local people in both areas have responded enthusiastically to developments schemes like road building, irrigation and other projects by the state government.  Jobs have been arranged in the police, green and civic police and other departments, cycles and scholarships given to students, salaries regularised for teachers.

The support base of the pro Gorkhaland Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Maoists  have weakened considerably  as local people could see that the government meant business and seemed determined to bring about development.

With the government in the process of reclaiming and deepening over 70,000 lakes and ponds, underground water levels have been better maintained and fisheries helped. Rain water harvesting and use has begun. The development of the Sunderban areas have been expedited. The launch of  an  unorthodox new scheme, involving the use of underground water trapped in the abandoned or illegal coal mines in parts of Burdwan district, deserves special mention. Such water has been tapped, and drawn out through pipes to irrigate some 50 acres of formerly ravaged or unusable land and make them fit for cultivation again. This has strengthened the local economy and helped improve the environment in an area where much land had been written off as ‘badlands’ and  abandoned. It also helped generate many mandays of work.

It has to be admitted that the chief minister, whose unpredictable ways and reckless statements frequently embarrass her party and government, deserves some credit for galvanising the notoriously somnolent administration. Even high ranked officers are scared of her whiplash tongue and brusque manners if they fail to meet assigned targets. She holds regular meetings in every district  to make sure that government projects are on track and does not  accept excuses for failures.

‘In fact BDOs and other officials have now taken to working on Sundays occasionally to make sure they do not fall behind in meeting targets,’ admits  one Kolkata-based Departmental Secretary.’ This is remarkable for a state like West Bengal, which in recent years has not exactly been renowned for administrative efficiency.’

This, coupled with her dictatorial crackdown on strikes or any other kind of work disruption, can certainly help turn things around in the long run in the state as her political opponents ruefully concede, that is some ‘poriborton’(change) indeed.

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