Bengal gets next to nothing

Union Budget 2012-13

By bappaditya paul  

In sharp contrast to the 2011-12 Budget, in which Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee showered at least seven major projects/sops on West Bengal (see chart) just ahead of the high-voltage Assembly poll in the state, the Union Budget this time has only two projects for the Mamata Banerjee-ruled state.

One is a Rs 439 crore flood-management project for Kandi sub-division in Murshidabad, which gets inundated every monsoon. The project, approved by the Ganga Flood Control Commission, would be funded under the Flood Management Programme of the Union government.

The second Bengal-specific announcement in this Budget is the allotment of Rs 50 crore to establish a world-class testing centre for water quality in Kolkata. The proposed facility is to focus on arsenic contamination ~ a common hazard in a number of districts in southern Bengal ~ and is likely to come up in the Rajarhat area.

In addition, along with several other states, West Bengal will benefit from the 22 per cent hike announced in the allocation for the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) scheme in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Of the 20 districts in Bengal, 11 are notified as “backward”, and are eligible beneficiaries under the BRGF scheme.

The reduction in customs duty on root and tuber crop-harvesting machines, rotary tillers, weeders and their parts ~ from the present 7.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent ~ announced in the Budget today, will bring only a minimal benefit to West Bengal.

This is because of the manual cultivation and harvesting methods that are practiced out here in this state. For example, although the state grows huge quantities potatoes (a root or tuber crop), instead of using machines, the farmers here harvest potatoes manually.

Likewise, the reduction of the basic customs duty on some water-soluble and liquid fertilisers (other than urea), will not provide any major relief to the farmers and tea planters in West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Mr Mukherjee announced two new mega-handloom clusters for Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand; a Rs 70 crore power-loom mega-cluster in Maharashtra; financial assistance for setting up dormitories for female workers in the five existing mega-clusters relating to the power-loom and leather sectors in other states, and the establishment of three weavers’ service centres in Mizoram, Nagaland and Jharkhand.

Had the finance minister wanted, West Bengal, too, could have been included in these projects to the benefit of the famous saree manufacturing units of Phulia in Nadia; the pottery industry of Siliguri in north Bengal, or the newly set up Foundry Park at Howrah.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 17  March 2012.)


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