Gearing up for the Assembly polls due next year and the upcoming elections to 107 civic bodies in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress government in its last full-fledged Budget focused on social sector spending, especially with an aim to reach out to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population in the state, which had shifted to the BJP in the last year’s Lok Sabha election.
Through the Budget, presented by Finance Minister Amit Mitra in the Assembly on Monday, the ruling Trinamool Congress also tried to win back the support of Matua community — a Scheduled Caste group with presence in at least six Parliamentary constituencies.
The government announced to set up three new universities — Birsa Munda University in Jhargram, Ambedkar University in the SC-dominated area and another university for advancement of education among the OBCs.
According to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the third university could be named Azad University after the country’s first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The three universities will be built in the next two years, the CM said.
With an eye on SC and ST communities that forms the majority of the population in Junglemahal area, the Budget announced two schemes under which members of these communities above 60 years of age will get a pension of Rs 1,000 every month if they are not beneficiary to any pension scheme.
For the development of North Bengal where the Trinamool Congress drew a blank in the last Lok Sabha polls, the government has allocated Rs 710 crore. The government also allocated Rs 500 crore for the housing scheme for tea garden workers, named ‘Chai Sundari’. Under this scheme, the state government within the next three years will provide funds for the construction of housing for all those permanent workers who do not have a house of their own.
The scheme will benefit around three lakh workers in 370 tea gardens in the state, it said.
The Finance Minister also announced ‘Karmasathi Scheme’ under which one lakh unemployed youth per year will get jobs and loans to become self-reliant. “They will be provided soft loan and subsidy for taking up any new income-generating project up to Rs 2 lakh. The loan will be provided by the state-owned cooperative bank,” the state government said.
The state government has allocated substantial funds for the minority affairs, madrasah education, backward and tribal welfare totalling Rs 5,340 crore. Mitra also allocated Rs 1,300 crore for the home and hill affairs department for the next financial year. He said that the law and order scenario in West Bengal remained peaceful during the year despite “grave provocation” to disrupt the harmony of the state.
Last year, the BJP won 18 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal — 16 more than 2014 General Elections. Among the 18 seats, the BJP had won two Matua-dominated seats of Ranaghat and Bongaon, besides sweeping over the tribal belt of Jangalmahal. The BJP had also won SC Parliamentary seats of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Bishnupur.
“This is basically a damage control exercise of the Mamata Banerjee government. By announcing pension schemes and universities in SC and ST areas, the Trinamool Congress wants to get back the tribal and SC votes which the party lost to the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It is a clear attempt to woo such voters ahead of 2021 state Assembly polls,” said political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty.
As per the 2019 Lok Sabha election results, the BJP had a lead in 13 out of total 16 ST Assembly seats in Bengal. The TMC led in only three ST Assembly seats. Similarly, the BJP led in 33 out of the total 68 SC Assembly constituencies. Out of the 33 seats, 26 are Matua community dominated. The Trinamool Congress led in 34 SC Assembly seats, while the Congress lead in just one SC Assembly seat.
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