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Wednesday 11 April 2012

Mamata gets Rs 1110 crore more

Mamata gets Rs 1110 crore more

Mamata Banerjee with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia in New Delhi on Tuesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, April 10: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today succeeded in persuading Delhi to allocate Bengal Rs 1,110 crore more than what it had decided till last evening.
The Planning Commission has agreed to an annual Bengal plan of Rs 25,910 crore for 2012-13, around 16 per cent more than last year's.
The final plan size represents an increase of Rs 1,110 crore over what the panel promised the state in a printed note to Mamata in the afternoon and about Rs 3,140 crore over the initial offer.
However, Bengal has not yet got any commitment from the Centre on a three-year loan repayment moratorium, which would have helped the Mamata government defer interest payouts.
Mamata raised the demand for the moratorium with plan panel deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who pointed out that the Prime Minister and the finance ministry would have to take the decision.
Not to be outdone, Mamata asked Ahluwalia to put in a word with "his good friend, the Prime Minister".
"If our income is Rs 21,000 crore and we are paying Rs 20,000 crore as interest, how will we address the state's issues?" a source quoted the chief minister as asking the plan panel chief.
Ahluwalia acknowledged the huge debt burden (over Rs 2 lakh crore) on Bengal, most of which piled up when the Left was in power. "It is true that West Bengal is one of the states which is debt-ridden and it is reflected in the data also. It is certainly true that the state government is presently bearing the burden of debt (which is more) than (the) average burden of other states," Ahluwalia said.
Asked whether she was happy with the allocation, Mamata said: "I have never asked (for) more. We know our limitations."
The chief minister's aides said in the evening that no meeting had yet been scheduled with the Prime Minister to discuss the moratorium.
The Union finance ministry had last year appointed a committee to look at restructuring the debt of the three "most debt-stressed states" —Bengal, Kerala and Punjab.
However, Mamata did make use of the room for manoeuvring on the state plan. A state plan has three components: revenues the state can raise and the share from central taxes, the money it is allowed to borrow, and central assistance.
Usually, it is the last component, decided by the plan panel, that can vary widely every year, depending on the state's needs and the Centre's ability and willingness to cough up funds. This money is given under various heads for specific projects.
Mamata today built her case for more funds by underscoring why the Centre cannot ignore Bengal. She highlighted features such as the state's three Maoist-affected tribal districts, its four international borders, and the need to invest in transport infrastructure in what is the gateway to the Northeast, an official said.
Today's hard bargaining means Bengal will get around Rs 9,600 crore in central assistance, instead of the initial offer of Rs 6,407 crore that was revised to Rs 8,500 crore.
Most of the extra funds will be sourced from the backward region grant fund, which powers development activities in 11 backward districts in Bengal. The state has got the Centre to agree to consider two more districts as backward — Darjeeling and Cooch Behar.

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