In an unprecedented move, the cash-strapped Mamata Banerjee government has approached the World Bank for a soft loan of Rs 4,000 crore to complete centrally-sponsored rural development projects “that are stuck because of an inordinate delay in the release of funds by the Centre”.
Confirming the decision, panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee said the projects — related to rural housing, roads and MNREGA — are “suffering for quite some time now because of the delay in receiving central funds”.
But the move is laced with heavy political undertones because the ruling Trinamool Congress leadership is sure to highlight such “step-motherly attitude of the Centre towards Bengal” and the “deprivation of Bengal of its legitimate dues” during the campaign for the Assembly polls next year.
The party will surely drive home the point that it was the utmost sincerity of Mamata that prompted her to approach the World Bank to complete the projects “in the face of such blatant non-cooperation from the BJP-led Narendra Modi government”.
In fact, Mamata has already started making these allegations at public meetings.
“We are yet to receive Rs 5,000 crore that are our legitimate dues under centrally-sponsored schemes. But we are determined to complete the unfinished tasks before the bell rings for the polls,” Mukherjee said on Wednesday.
If granted, the loan will be used to clear unpaid wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGREGA), rural-road networking under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, rural housing scheme Indira Awaas Yojana and the rural employment scheme called Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana, he said.
However, several senior bureaucrats HT talked to wondered how could a government reeling under a burden of debt — that is set to kiss Rs 3 lakhcrore by the end of the current financial year — take such a decision. They also pointed out that over 70% of the state’s own revenues is spent on debt repayment, leaving precious little for development projects.
Mukherjee, too, admitted that the government does not have any resources of its own to complete the pending projects. “But the decision to go out of its way to borrow money shows how serious this government is about rural development,” he said.
An official of the panchayat and rural affairs department said, “Work can be undertaken in around 3,500 villages if we can secure the World Bank loan. Quite a few of them will be in the three Jangalmahal districts. Moreover, all due payments under MNRGEA can also be cleared if the loan materialises.”