Next time, even if the chief secretary of West Bengal has a guest, he will not be able to offer him a cup of tea, thanks to the financial crunch the state is going through. Saddled with an enormous debt burden and poor revenue generation, the state finance department has issued a circular stopping all office expenses of government employees.
Dated April 11, the circular has put a stop to all bills, including those for stationery goods, tea and snacks, newspapers and journals and local conveyance, even purchase of uniforms for Group D staff, like sweepers.
The instructions have come into effect immediately and will be applicable to all government and government-funded offices across the state for an indefinite period of time.
The order has been signed by state finance secretary CM Bachwat, where all drawing disbursement offices (DDOs) and treasury offices have been asked not to release office expense bills.
Sources in the finance department said the government would have to arrange for about Rs 2,700 crore for the April salaries and pensions. The finance secretary is camping in New Delhi to raise fresh debts to the tune of Rs 1,400 crore in a desperate attempt to meet the salary and pension deadlines.
"The government has become bankrupt and the circular is only a reflection of this bitter truth," said Kamal Kumar Chakravarti, secretary, West Bengal Government Secretariat Officers' Forum. The state is saddled with so much debt and so poor tax revenues that about 92% of the government's revenue income is drained out to meet past debt obligations.
All the expenses that the finance department will pay for, apart from salaries and pensions, is bills on election expenses, medicines and diet for patients in government hospitals and jails and medical reimbursements for employees, besides electric and telephone bills. The department has already stopped the payment of contractors in different departments, such as irrigation, public works and power.