Kolkata: Proposal for 10 flyovers in Kolkata , six-laning of major state highways, assurance of giving employment to 1.5 crore people in the next five years have been trumpeted as the biggest highlights of the West Bengal Vote-on Account, presented by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday. She presented the proposals in the absence of State Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who reported sick.
The Vote-on Account, which comes ahead of the Assembly polls in the state, had a string of promises for the next five years, such as building 20 lakh houses Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe, filling of one lakh ten thousand posts in police and administration, giving aid to self-help groups, aid to to unaided madrasahs, continuing the free ration system, starting a people’s canteen, bring 10 crore people under the Swasthya Sathi programme, make a system of internship of 10,000 students in government departments for three years, giving tablets to class 12th standard students, among others.
Interestingly, the state government’s promise of 10 more flyovers stands in stark contrast to the fact that this government has not been able to build a single flyover in Kolkata and adjoining regions.
In the field of school education, Banerjee has proposed setting up 100 English-medium schools for each of the different lingual population living in the state.
The only red herring in the Vote-on-Account has been excess excise income from liquor, which has increased substantially this year.
The government, while giving sops to clubs, had to increase the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) limit from 3% to 5% this year so that it can borrow funds.
In 2011, when Left Front demitted office, a Rs 1,93,000 crore loan had accumulated through the years after Independence. Within 10 years, this amount has doubled and the state stares a debt trap. The Vote-on-Account over-steppped its limit and declared tax and sops which are not permissible in an election year
As per critics, the largest “fudging” in the document is with regard to to employment generation numbers, according to which the total number of registered unemployed youth in Bengal stands at 34 lakh, which has climbed to 35 lakh in 2020. Incidentally, in the school education system, about one lakh posts are lying vacant, while a total of two lakh government posts are also lying vacant.
Also, the government has spoken of employing six lakh persons inn the Group D posts, while in reality, only 5,000 recruitments have so far been done.
Vacuous Budget: Asim Dasgupta
Asim Dasgupta, former state finance minister in the Left front government, while reacting to the proposals, said this was a “vacuous” Vote-on Account, which was standing only on borrowings and income from excise.
Dasgupta also mentioned that the four-month Vote-on Account has overstepped its legal limit as it cannot announce projects for the next 10 years.
"The political manifesto of any political party cannot be a budget,” Dasgupta told NewsClick, adding that it was extra-constitutional.
In the Vote-on Account, the Mamata Banerjee government has claimed that in the last 10 years, there was 1.12 crore employment generation in the state. However, no sectoral analysis or numbers have been given. It has also been said in the next five years, 1.5 crore jobs would be generated and the rate of increase would be more than 100%. In the associated publications of the Vote on Account, it has been said that planned expenditure has enhanced by only 17%. Keeping in mind the inflation ratio, this amounts to 10 % in real terms. It is a misnomer, therefore, that employment generation will rise by 100%, say critics, adding that many questions do not have answers in the documents that were presented to the House.
Dasgupta pointed out that the Mamata Banerjee government speaks of the accumulated debt left behind by the Left Front government, but that debt of Rs 1.93 crore contains small-scale saving loans, as during that time, West Bengal was at No 1 place in small savings, while the earlier loan accumulated due to Central government’s policies. He said the present government has been accumulating debt from the open market which could reach Rs 5.26 lakh crore in the 10 years of this government.
Also, the Vote on Account has failed to address the issue of corruption, which is eating away government funds, Dasgupta added.