From free tablets for senior students, a 3 per cent hike in dearance allowance (DA) for state government employees from next month to a cheaper RT-PCR test, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced a slew of sops.
To fill the digital gap in an age of online classes, tablets will be distributed to higher secondary students in schools and madrasas, she said, adding that the move will benefit 9.5 lakh students.
The cost of an RT-PCR test for Covid-19 has been reduced to Rs 950 from Rs 1,250. Earlier in October, the price of the test kit was slashed from Rs 2,250. The state has of late been recording 3,000-3,5000 Covid positive cases daily.
The decision assumes significance as the state heads to Assembly elections in April-May next year.
“In these Covid times, many students have failed to attend online classes because they cannot buy computers. They also do not have mobile either. So, we have decided to give tablets to all students in higher secondary and madrasas. Total 9.5 lakh students will benefit under this scheme. We have almost 14,000 higher secondary schools and 636 madrasas,” said Banerjee during a meeting with West Bengal State Government Employees’ Federation, an arm of TMC, at the ‘Nabanna’ state secretariat.
Though she did not specify the timeline by which tablets will be distributed, she said the government “will try to give these tablets as early as possible” after floating tenders.
In the meeting, Banerjee also asked Education Minister Partha Chatterjee to check if tablets can be given to students of other classes too. She said a committee with members from education departments can look into expanding the scheme.
On a 3 per cent hike in DA, the chief minister reiterated that the Central government owes Rs 85,000 crore in dues, including Rs 8,000 core in GST collections, to the state. Despite this, she said her government is paying full salary to state government employees. “Despite financial constraints, we have met the recommendations of all previous pay commissions. We will also provide a 3 per cent hike in DA from January 2021,” she said. State Home Secretary Harikrishna Dwivedi said the move will cost the state exchequer Rs 2,200 crore.
“Over Rs 85,000 crore dues are yet to be cleared by the Centre but that will not prevent us from giving our people their dues,” she said.
Noting that employees of Central government organisations and undertakings are currently “insecure” amid talk of privatisation of institutions, the CM said her dispensation has never sacked anyone and instead increased salaries of staff even in the midst of the pandemic.
“Employees of the railways, Coal India, SAIL and Air India are currently not feeling very secure as these institutions might be shut down any day. Even the ordnance factories are not immune…” she said.
The situation in the country is such that “the farmers are agitating on the streets, while the labourers have lost their voice,” Banerjee claimed.
“I have spent more than Rs 33 crore (from state exchequer) to the railways to bear the fares of hapless migrant labourers, but the Central government did not do anything to help them return home from their workplaces during the Covid-19 induced lockdown,” she said.
The CM also claimed said that the Centre has not given the state its dues for Amphan relief and Covid-19 care.
“They are talking of corruption, even as they raised a lot of money under PM Cares initiative but doled out nothing,” she added. WITH PTI INPUTS
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