Inheriting a huge debt and many ailing public service sectors, Mamata Banerjee has done quite a lot in a year in terms of announcing grand new projects. Whether they will take shape in future and add to the revival of Bengal is for time to tell.
No change yet despite promises
By Subhendu Maiti
The Trinamool Congress is yet to change the ailing state healthcare system though chief minister Mamata Banerjee who also handles the health portfolio has been trying her best to streamline the set up.
Mamata has handpicked Sanjay Mitra, former joint secretary in the PMO, as principal secretary in the health department. Following the spate of crib deaths across the state, the government has set up 21 sick newborn care units (SNCU).
The government has also set up several task forces comprising management gurus of IIM, Kolkata, socio-economists, senior physicians and paediatricians to streamline healthcare.
"There were only six SNCUS during 34 years of Left Front rule. Within one year, we have set up 15 more. Our plan is to set up 20 more SNCUS in various hospitals. We have also announced to set up 27 super critical hospitals," minister of state for health Chandrima Bhattacharjee said.
Bengal has a huge shortfall of around 2,500 medical teachers and doctors in tertiary, secondary and primary healthcare system.
SNCUS do not have adequate number of trained doctors. The government, to its credit, has posted doctors to the SNCUS giving them monthly salary of Rs. 45,000 each under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scheme.
Besides the huge shortage of 1,100 doctors in primary and secondary healthcare, the situation in medical colleges and hospitals in the city and districts are in a shambles despite Mamata's surprise visits to SSKM, Bangur Institute of Neurology (BIN), Baghajatin State General Hospital etc.
Despite sweeping promises, the number of critical neuro surgeries has come down at BIN, the sole state-run super-speciality hospital. Similarly, despite tall promises, nothing much has been done in the recent times for other government hospitals in the state.
All good work comes to naught
By HT Correspondent
The Mamata Banerjee administration has taken a few good steps that investors were vociferously demanding during the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime, but threw away the advantage due to one factor, its land policy.
The government set a new benchmark in work culture by ensuring high employee presence in offices on February 28, when Left trade unions had called a countrywide general strike. The general impression is the average government employee has started working more.
The government has also cut the paperwork for investors. While earlier, an investor had to fill 15 forms of around 100 pages, now he has to fill four forms of 15 pages.
Unfortunately, all the good work has come to naught. The state land policy negates any role of the government in procuring land for industry. The investors have highlighted this point during meetings with the chief minister, but so far there has been no indication that Mamata would change her policy.
The government has been speaking of big investments flowing into the state since the new government took over. The government claimed to have attracted 16 mega investment worth Rs 56,000 crore, but did not share details of the proposed deals.
However, the singular blow to the image of the state has been the reluctance of the government to grant SEZ status to the software campus of Infosys. The software company has made it clear they would not go ahead with the project unless the SEZ status is granted. The same fate awaits Wirpo's campus near the proposed Infosys site.
The much discussed fortnightly meetings of the industry core committee, constituted with representatives from industry association and the West Bengal government, has totally stopped since the beginning of 2012. The government does not seem to have a solution to the problem of the industry with its land policy.
Edu reforms to take effect in time
By Mou Chakraborty
Though the state government has taken several steps in the past year in both higher and school education sectors, most are at a planning stage and whether it would yield good result in the future is debatable.
However, come 2013 and school would mean no homework, less books, no detention and learning through activity. While private tuition would be banned along with grading system, integrated learning would make its début in state schools. These are suggestions given by the syllabus committee and chief minister Mamata Banerjee would take a final call.
However, the government has taken a concrete step in school education. Two years after the law was implemented in rest of the country, Bengal has now framed rules for implementing the RTE Act. With this, the Trinamool government took up an important task kept unattended earlier.
The states initial plan of coming up with a book board and print all the school text books itself has met with opposition from local publishers who claim that the move would destroy the industry.
Flouting guideline set by the Centre meant to reduce pressure on students, awarding total marks and ranks in Madhyamik and Higher Secondary exams has made a comeback. In higher education, too, various changes have come. The biggest boon in 2012 would go out to Presidency University and St. Xavier's College. While Presidency became a varsity under the Trinamool government, Mamata has announced her desire to upgrade St. Xavier's College into a varsity as well.
Despite the promise of depoliticising higher education and coming up with the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Act, the colleges and universities are yet to become apolitical. Instead, incidents on Trinamool Chhatra Parishad's infighting have embarrassed the government.
Nothing to boast on empty coffers
By Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
If there is one department that the state government would wish to keep away from public glare one the eve of its first anniversary, it is finance.
This, despite state finance minister Amit Mitra setting in motion initiatives such as simplification of tax structure, assessment and audit along with large-scale introduction of e-governance. Mitra, however, has struggled to identify figures that portray the health of the state exchequer.
Going strictly by the budget statistics, the figures are really appalling for the state finance department in every sphere from economic asset creation to generation of tax revenue to rise in revenue deficit.
The revised estimate for 201112 showed the total tax revenue generation at Rs. 24,934.04 crore, down from the budget estimate of Rs. 27,690 crore. However, despite this under-performance, the budget estimate for 2012-13 has pegged the total state tax revenue generation at Rs. 31,222.25 crore, which even finance department employees consider too ambitious.
The performance in the critical area of economic asset (building of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals etc) creation has left a lot to be desired. While for 2011-12 the estimate was pegged at Rs. 4,787.35 crore, the figure achieved stood at Rs. 2,597.65 crore-almost half the estimate. Finance department officials said diversion of development expenditure for payment of salaries, wages and retirement benefits was the main reason of underperformance under this crucial head.
While not much was spent in building schools, tube wells and hospitals, government expenditure on salaries, pensions and debt repayment led to a ballooning of revenue deficit, a figure that broadly indicates the overspending of the government. All these led to the chief minister raising her pitch for a three-year moratorium on the interest payment. The total debt repayment obligation is so high that it eats up almost the entire tax revenue of the state.