After constantly highlighting her opposition to the demonetisation move over the past three months in the political sphere, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has registered a ‘fiscal protest’ as well braving deep financial crisis.
In the state budget presented on Friday, state finance minister Amit Mitra announced a one-time cash assistance of Rs 50,000 for all those who lost their jobs due to demonetisation. Mitra announced a demonetisation relief corpus of Rs 250 crore, an amount that can be distributed to 50,000 individuals at the most.
The state is in deep fiscal crisis with debt repayment alone consuming 81% of the state’s tax revenues the next year. The fiscal deficit is projected at Rs 19,351 crore.
“Demonetisation has forced thousands of skilled workers from different parts of the country to come back to the state. They are now living in pitiable conditions. We would give these workers a one-time grant of Rs 50,000 so that they can start an alternative business. An allocation of Rs 250 crore has been set aside for this in the budget,” said Mitra.
The district magistrates have been asked to identify those who have lost their jobs due to the move announced by the Prime Minister on November 8 last year, announced the finance minister.
“The chief minister said that lakhs of people have lost their livelihoods. Has the state done any survey? I apprehend that this corpus of Rs 250 crore would go to the party fund,” Dilip Ghosh, president of the West Bengal BJP, told HT.
The finance minister also announced a special assistance fund of Rs 100 crore that has been created in the budget to mitigate the sufferings of farmers hit by demonestiation. The farmers couldn’t procure fertilizers and seeds in time. The cooperative credit system, on which a large section of farmers depend, has been paralysed because of demonetization.
“The relief fund is indeed a welcome move. But with lakhs losing their livelihood, how does one ensure that the victims will be picked for assistance? It might lead to nepotism,” remarked Pradip Bhattacharya, immediate past president of Bengal Congress.
Besides the demonetisation relief fund, the budget contained features that seemed to mark preparations for the panchayat polls in the state next year.
The monthly honorarium of anaganwadi workers and Asha workers has been increased by Rs 500.
To provide relief to small businessmen, the threshold under VAT has been increased from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. The allocation for agriculture and rural development has been increased by 17%.
“This is the best budget. Not a single ongoing development scheme has been scrapped. We couldn’t do anything more as our hands are tied. While on one hand we have to pay off huge debts, on the other hand the economy has been hit by demonetisation,” said Mamata while interacting with the media after the budget.
Since November 8 last year, she has turned out to the most vocal critic of the Prime Minister’s demonetisation move.