Kolkata: As West Bengal inches closer to its most crucial elections next year, the political battle between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the opposition BJP is heating up, with the two parties now fighting over non-implementation of central schemes.
While the BJP accuses the Mamata Banerjee government of not implementing the flagship central schemes like the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi and Ayushman Bharat in her state, the Trinamool claimed it has come up with “better schemes” like ‘Krishak Bandhu’ and ‘Swasthya Sathi’, which are similar to the Centre’s schemes.
Under the PM-Kisan scheme, launched in February last year, the government provides the farmers with a cash transfer of Rs 6,000 a year, while Ayushman Bharat is aimed at benefiting the bottom 40 per cent of Indians. The scheme provides an annual health cover of Rs 5 lakh per family to more than 10.74 crore poor families — about 50 crore people.
Constantly under attack from the opposition for non-implementation of central schemes, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said the “central schemes are only for one individual’s advertisements”.
She had even written to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on 21 December, requesting him to send the funds allocated for Bengal farmers under PM-Kisan, which the state will then disburse to the beneficiaries.
In September, the chief minister wrote to the Centre, saying PM-Kisan and Ayushman Bharat will be implemented only if the funds are routed through the state government.
“The Centre does not fund schemes fully, it gives only half the amount and people (read state) need to bear the other half. But the Bengal government bears the costs fully. The central schemes are only for one individual’s advertisements. I have written two letters to the agriculture ministry to release the funds, but they did not respond,” she said at state secretariat Nabanna earlier this week.
Banerjee had initially refused to implement Ayushman Bharat as the state had to bear 40 per cent of the funds. But in 2018, she agreed to implement the scheme after a state-Centre arrangement that Ayushman Bharat and Swasthya Sathi would be merged and it would be run under the name of the latter. But six months later, she retracted, claiming the Centre only promoted PM Modi through the scheme as health cards carried his photo.
Banerjee also refused to implement the PM-Kisan scheme even though it is a fully central-funded scheme. Bengal is the only state across the country that chose to give the scheme a miss. The chief minister has highlighted that her government has introduced the ‘Krishak Bandhu’ scheme, launched in January 2019, to help the farmers.
The BJP has, however, made the non-implementation of central schemes an election issue, with most of its leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, targeting Banerjee for it.
But political experts believed that schemes are for “promoting the image of the political parties” and the TMC-BJP fight over schemes is just to get political mileage.
Mamata govt hurrying to extend schemes’ benefits to people
With state elections now just five months away, Banerjee’s government has gone on an overdrive to register people under Krishak Bandhu and Swasthya Sathi schemes.
According to state government data, around 79 lakh people had lined up in government camps in the last two weeks, of which 43 lakh people have submitted applications for Swastha Sathi scheme under the government’s first two phases of public outreach programme — ‘Duare Sarkar’ (government at doorstep).
While the government received 43 lakh applications in just the last two weeks, it had registered only 1.4 crore beneficiaries for Swastha Sathi in the past five years. The scheme, launched in February 2016, was initially aimed at benefiting only the under-privileged, but now it has been extended to all residents of the state.
Under Krishak Bandhu, the government covered around 49 lakh farmers and nearly Rs 2.6 crore were disbursed in the last two years. In the past two weeks, around 2 lakh applications were submitted for the scheme, government data showed.
The Trinamool, meanwhile, said the Centre should take ideas from Mamata Banerjee for schemes.
Talking about the Swastha Sathi scheme, Chandrima Bhattacharya, Minister of State for Health, said, “Our health scheme is better than Modi’s. They should take some ideas from Mamata Banerjee. Our scheme covers the beneficiary and the extended family members. The central scheme does not have that provision. Why do we need to take such schemes for which we have to give a share?”
“Under the new provisions of Swastha Sathi, everybody in Bengal can get the benefits of a Rs 5-lakh insurance cover,” she said at a press conference earlier this week.
Mamata depriving people for petty political interests: BJP
The BJP, meanwhile, said Banerjee is “depriving people” for her own political interests.
“We have no problem with her government creating a new or similar scheme for the farmers. We are only asking her to send the list of beneficiaries so that the farmers can avail of the central schemes too. It will help the farmers more if they get both central and state schemes. Moreover, for availing of the PM-Kisan, the state does not need to bear any cost,” BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya told ThePrint.
“For her petty political interests, she is depriving people,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar Wednesday wrote to the chief minister, requesting her to implement the PM-Kisan scheme in the state and send the beneficiary list.
“So far, each farmer has lost Rs 12,000 & total loss to farmers of state is Rs 8,400 crore. This is heart-renderingly worrisome and calls for soul-searching,” he tweeted.
So far, each farmer has lost Rs. 12,000 & total loss to farmers of State is Rs. 8400 crores. This is heart-renderingly worrisome and calls for soul-searching. pic.twitter.com/owp4EIikpu
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) December 23, 2020
Prof Biswanath Chakraborti, a political analyst, however, told ThePrint the schemes are not about taking government benefits to the people, but “are about promoting the image of the political parties”.
“The fight over schemes is to get political mileage. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to not participate in central schemes is also about politics. She did not want Modi’s face to reach people’s houses in Bengal,” he said.