Taking a leaf out of the book of his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced on Friday 33,000 cycles would be distributed free among girls students of Class 9 in North and South 24 Parganas districts.
The Bihar chief minister’s plan of giving bicycles free to girls was one factor in the outstanding success of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in the assembly elections of last year.
The cycles will be distributed to students of 319 schools and high madrasahs of gram panchayats adjoining the Sunderbans in the two districts, both of which are electoral strongholds of the rival Trinamool Congress.
"If a girl is promoted to Class 9, she will be eligible for a cycle," said Bhattacharjee at a programme in Raidighi on the fringes of the Sunderbans.
"Earlier there were no roads to use cycles in these areas. Our government has built roads and bridges and students can reach school using these cycles," the chief minister said.
From 2007 to 2010, the Bihar government spent Rs 174.35 crore in giving cycles to 871,000 schoolgirls.
Bhattacharjee himself gave a cycle each to Anima Ghorai and Roshnia Khatun.
The girls said they earlier had to walk 90-120 minutes to reach school. "Now with these cycles the school comes closer," the girls said, almost in unison.
Both Bhattacharjee and minister of Sunderban affairs Kanti Ganguly described the cycle as a tool of social evolution, urging parents to keep sending their daughters to school and not get them married before they completed education.
In recent times, Bhattacharjee is the third chief minister to distribute cycles among underprivileged girl students, Nitish Kumar being the first. In January Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced more than 170,000 girl students would get cycles from April.