Siliguri Mayor and CPM MLA Ashok Bhattacharya sat on a dharna at Metro Channel in Kolkata to protest against the “step-motherly attitude” of the state government for not releasing Rs 1,400 crore funds for development projects.
Bhattacharya and other Left councillors of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) started the dharna at noon and ended it at 4 pm. Since 2016, the CPM ML has been accusing the state government of not releasing funds for several projects. “We cannot implement development projects in SMC areas as Rs 1,400 crore in funds is pending. The state government has not cleared those funds for us, resulting in a delay in completion of various projects,” he said.
The CPM MLA said he had sent several letters to state government, urging it to clear the funds but all his pleas fell on deaf ears. “The state government is showing a step-motherly attitude towards us because of a political reason. SMC is run by Left parties while other civic bodies are run by the ruling party. Other civic bodies in North Bengal get more funding than ours. The state government is depriving the people of Siliguri by doing this,” he said.
Prime plot for politics: A place to be seen and heard
The Left’s protest is one of the first to be held at the Metro Channel by an opposition party recently. Located in the heart of the city, the venue has always been sought after for political events. The last such event held at Metro Channel was Mamata Banerjee’s three-day dharna against the CBI raid on the then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s house. Since then, the Congress and BJP have been denied permission to conduct events there. Today, the Left staged a small dharna there only after a minor scuffle with police over the use of the venue.
Before the dharna was staged, there was a mild scuffle between Left councillors and policemen over whether they could hold a protest at Metro Channel. Later, the policemen put up barricades around the area where the Left leaders staged the dharna.
“The Mamata Banerjee government blames the Centre for depriving the people of Bengal. But the state government is doing the same to its own civic body just because it is run by the Opposition. This is very unfortunate,” said the Siliguri Mayor. State government officials could not be reached for a reaction on the matter.
In May 2015, the CPM had won the SMC election with 23 of 47 wards while Trinamool got 17. The Congress had four and the BJP two. An Independent candidate who won also supported the Left, allowing them to get 24 of 47 seats to form the board. In the district council polls held on October 3 the same year, out of nine seats, CPM bagged six while the rest went to Trinamool.
Bhattacharya made a mark as the chairman of the Siliguri municipality in 1988 and is credited by many for helping transform it into a modern township. In 1991, he became an MLA for the first time and was appointed the state municipal affairs minister. For the next three terms, he was elevated to the post of a Cabinet minister, which he retained until he lost in the 2011 Assembly polls. He won the Assembly polls in 2016.