On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kolkata to formally launch several social sector schemes, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seized the opportunity to claim that the reduced funding for major centrally sponsored projects had affected the economically weaker sections of society.
But terming Mamata’s criticism as “encouragement” for his government, the prime minister expressed his appreciation for the chief minister’s comments. When Mamata pointed how over 2,000 gram panchayats in Bengal did not have banking facilities, the PM said he appreciated “the chief minister’s confidence in raising such issues in the hope that the Modi government at the Centre will do things to change such situations.”
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In a seven-page memorandum submitted to Modi, when the two met for the second time during the day at Raj Bhavan, Mamata renewed the state’s demand for a “debt waiver”. The memorandum also listed a large number of projects and centrally monitored schemes which, the West Bengal chief minister claimed, had suffered because of reductions in allocations. In the memorandum, Mamata raised the issue of reduced allocations for various centrally sponsored schemes like the Integrated Child Development Services, mid-day meals, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and Backward Regions Grant Funds.
The chief minister was accompanied by state Finance Minister Dr Amit Mitra, Home Secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay and state Finance Secretary H K Diwedi.
Mamata also pointed out that the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for districts affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) had been delinked from central support, even though these areas needed special financial support to carry forward development and infrastructure projects.
Financial grievances aside, the day’s proceedings definitely indicated that the two leaders were increasingly engaging with each other. Mamata seemed to have moved away from her earlier belligerent attitude towards the Modi government, when she had even skipped a series of meetings convened by the prime minister.
In recent months, Mamata seemed to be pursuing a different strategy by trying to engage with the Modi government on issues of bilateral interests; she had even sought an appointment with the PM in Delhi.
Apart from two meetings in the past two months, the two have spoken over the phone on at least half a dozen occasions over issues like the Nepal earthquake, India-Bangladesh enclave exchange, the Teesta water sharing agreement and the smooth passage of the Land Boundary Agreement in Parliament.
The meeting on Saturday was meant to push for the state’s demand for a moratorium on the loan repayment burden of the state government, estimated to be currently at approximately Rs 28,000 crore in the current fiscal, said senior state bureaucrats. Mamata pointed out in the memorandum that since 2011, over Rs 1,00,000 crore has been deducted from the state treasury, and demanded relief from the debt burden.
On Sunday, the two leaders will meet again at a revival programme of the Burnpur IISCO steel plant – a wholly owned subsidiary of Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL).