Members of the West Bengal legislative assembly, reckoned to be the seat of democracy, has been hit by the financial crisis in West Bengal precisely when it is passing through an epoch-making election process. The government's cash crunch has reached such an extent that an embargo has been imposed on the payment of allowances to MLAs.
All allowances - travel, constituency allowances, medical, communication - have been hit. "When I went to the accounts section of the assembly on May 5 to collect my allowances, I was told that there was an embargo on payments," said Ananda Kumar Biswas, CPI(M) MLA from Bishnupur-East, a constituency in the South 24-Parganas. Biswas was told that the embargo would continue till further notice. "The last bill that was reimbursed to me was on March 23. Those were bills that were pending since February," said Biswas.
Bitter opponents of the CPI(M), Kultoli SUCI MLA Jaikrishna Haldar confirmed that the March and April allowances had not been paid yet. Leaving aside medical and travel allowances, the total monthly payment to an MLA would be about Rs 35,000. "All inclusive, the dues of 294 MLAs may amount to anywhere between Rs 3 crore and R4 crore in the past two months," an MLA of the ruling party said.
"We've received no payment over the past two months. Out travel allowance and dearness allowance bills have also been put on hold. We aren't surprised, since the government is bankrupt," Trinamool MLA from Bhangar Arabul Islam remarked.
Dwijapada Mondal, CPI(M) MLA from Canning-West, agrees. He has pending bills of more than Rs 50,000, apart from his salary.
But why are the MLAs not protesting? An overwhelming number (about 230 out of 294) are keeping quiet since they belong to the ruling coalition and any hue and cry would add to anti-CPI(M) sentiments, especially before and during the polls. The state has been tottering on the brink of a financial collapse.