Bengal's policy makeover
Since Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assumed power in 2011, West Bengal has been gifted a new fate. With several unique policies that have been internationally applauded – Bengal is all set to overcome the doom of the past and usher in a bright new future, writes Tarun Goswami.
Even Bengal's biggest critics today admit that the state has turned into a new leaf since Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assumed power in 2011. Stepping out of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, one can immediately spot the universe of change that has taken place in this short span of seven years. The entire stretch of the otherwise dingy Kazi Nazrul Islam Sarani has been brightly illuminated. The Kestopur Canal has been cleaned and the embankments have been beautified. The traffic management has also been significantly improved. New Town and Biswa Bangla Sarani have been given new life. Every intersection is appropriately illuminated. Eco Park, the biggest urban park in the country, is a star attraction. At night, the miniature 'Seven Wonders of the World' stand illuminated. There are LED lamps, electric buses, Misti Hub – all the facilities available in a modern city. But, merely highlighting the development of Kolkata, where all the important thoroughfares are swept twice a day or where there is 24 drinking water, will lend only a partial picture.
Massive development has taken place across Bengal in the past seven years. Rural Bengal is shining. Rural roads have improved, resulting in better connectivity. The state Panchayat and Rural Development department had undertaken a scheme to construct and upgrade 35,000 km rural roads. Every rural house will get tap water by 2020 and all rural homes will have toilets by 2019.
Mamata Banerjee along with the bureaucrats have toiled hard to wipe the stigma associated with Bengal. Kolkata was described as the "city of processions" by Rajiv Gandhi. Bandhs and strikes were frequent and businessmen were less inclined to invest in Bengal. In three decades of the Left Front's misrule, Bengal was turned into 'a desert'. The Asansol- Durgapur belt, which was the state's industrial hub, witnessed the closure of factories. Most of the medium and small units in Howrah, called 'Sheffield of the East', saw the winding up of units. Economically, the condition of Bengal had turned from bad to worse. To cope with the situation, the Left Front government took unreasonable loans and, now, the Mamata Banerjee government has to pay Rs 40,000 crore as loan interest.
But, not cosmetic change, real changes have taken place in Bengal.
In the past seven years, the Mamata Banerjee government has undertaken 25 schemes to ensure all-round development of the state. Banerjee has repeated that her government looks after the people of Bengal from their birth to death, completing the full life circle. This is not a mere statement, but the reality.
To understand development in Bengal, or how the state which was once the capital of the British Empire has made a turnaround, one must know the schemes. Banerjee believes that the growth of a state relies entirely on the condition of its common people. If the common people are educated and garner economic power, then the state can automatically achieve progress. Of the projects taken up by the Bengal government, some have gained common repute. They are Khadyashree, Kanyashree, Sabuj Sathi and Sabujshree. Kanyashree has received worldwide recognition with a UNO award. It may be mentioned that Mamata Banerjee has herself named all the projects.
Under the Khadya Sathi project, rice is sold at Rs two to the people belong to economically challenged backgrounds. The project has been taken up by the Food and Supplies Department. 8.66 crore people have been brought under the project. Kanyashree is for girls between 13 years to 19 years of age. The primary aim of the project is to prevent the early marriage of girls and help them continue their studies. Under the project, Rs 25,000 is provided to the girls. It came into force from October 1, 2013. Girls pursuing higher studies in post graduation are given scholarships. They get Rs 2500 per month for pursuing Science subjects and Rs 2000 per month for studying Arts subjects.
Under Sabuj Sathi, bicycles are given to the students of classes IX, X, XI and XII of state-run, sponsored and aided schools. Already 70 lakh cycles have been given to the students. The Backward Classes Welfare Department has a databank containing the names of the students, their classes, names of their educational institutions, names of parents or guardians and the date of receiving the cycles. Like Kanayshree, Sabuj Sathi is Banerjee's pet project. She had sketched the logo of the project which is embossed on the carrier of the cycles. Under Sabuj Shree, a tree sapling is given to the mother of the newborn. The tree will have to be named after the baby and it will be looked after by the parents. When the baby grows, the tree can be used by the family members to help the grown child pursue their career. The project came into force on December 19, 2016.
These projects are well-known. We will be discussing the lesser-known projects to understand the magic that has changed Bengal.
Forty Sufal Bangla stalls have been opened where agricultural produce is sold. The buyers get milk, meat, fruits, rice and dal. The produce of the farmers is bought and sold through the stalls.
Under the Gitanjali project, the state government constructs houses for the economically impoverished. The beneficiaries should have a monthly earning of Rs 6000 or less and a plot of land. The government will construct a house on the plot. Nija Griha Nija Bhoomi is for the artisans, fishermen, agricultural labourers. So far, more than two lakh people have received benefits of the project.
Sabala is a project for women's empowerment. The beneficiaries are between 11 years and 18 years of age. The project is now operational in seven districts – Malda, Kolkata, Purulia, Nadia, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar. A balanced diet is being supplied to the beneficiaries.
Muktir Alo is for the girls who have been rescued from red-light areas. They are provided training and are made self-reliant. The project was inaugurated on September 4, 2015.
Sabalamban Special is for the sex workers. It lends them an alternate means of earning. They are given training and some are sent for acting in side roles for television serials. The girl child of a sex worker is also entitled to receive the benefits of the scheme.
Sikhshree helps students of classes V to VIII, belonging to economically challenged families. The project is meant for the SC/STs. It is of massive help to the children living in the backward areas.
Under Yubashree, unemployed youth who have passed class VIII and are aged between 18 years and 45 years are given benefits. Now, the number of beneficiaries under the project is 2.2 lakh. Under the project, the beneficiaries are provided a variety of training.
Gatidhara is a popular scheme of the state government. The project has helped many unemployed youth become owners of commercial vehicles. The state government gives Rs one lakh to the beneficiaries to begin their own vehicle business.
The condition of the folk artists of Bengal was in deep jeopardy and many of them had been forced to leave their vocation and join other professions. As a result, the vibrant folk culture was gradually becoming extinct in many pockets. After assuming power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee lent special attention to help the folk artists. Around two lakh folk artists are given Rs 1000 per month and are also provided with a pension. They are also given musical instruments free of cost. Those above 60 years of age are receiving a pension of Rs 1000 per month.
Swastha Sathi is meant for the civic volunteers, part-time teachers in colleges, home guards, ICDS workers, green police etc, who have all been brought under the project. They receive free medical treatment in state-run and some private hospitals.
Under the Sishusathi project, children suffering from congenital diseases are provided care. The state government looks after them until they attain the age of 18 years. Mabhoi is for accredited journalists. They can receive treatment in state-run hospitals or in certain empanelled private hospitals.
Swami Vivekananda Swanirbhar Karmasansthan Prakalpa helps unemployed youth receive training and begin their own business. Under the Samabyathi project, the state government helps members of economically backward families cremate or bury their near and dear ones. They also receive a benefit of Rs 2000. In addition to this, there are two projects, Samajik Suraksha Yojna helps the people coming from the unorganised sector look after themselves and their family members. Samayer Sathi helps people receive the benefits of the projects taken up by the state government on time.
The recent project added to the long list is Rupashree. Under this project, parents will receive Rs 25,000 for their daughter's marriage. The parents whose annual income is less than Rs 1.50 lakh will be the beneficiaries. The project has come into force since this April 1.
To ensure smooth execution of the projects, the Chief Minister is conducting administrative review meetings in the districts. She is accompanied by the state chief secretary and home secretary, additional chief secretary and departmental secretaries. The MLAs, MPs and Panchayat Samity, Gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishad members attend the meeting where the problems are addressed and immediately resolved. The meetings, over time, have proven to be extremely effective and have helped Bengal march forward towards a glorious future.