In her first official engagement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee shed her famed belligerence and extended all help to the Centre in honouring the India-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement while taking a rather soft stand on the Teesta waters pact with Dhaka that the NDA government is keen to ink.
Banerjee’s first exclusive meeting with Modi, nine months after the new government stormed to power at the Centre, lasted almost half an hour. This was followed by delegation-level talks between the PM and his officials and a Banerjee-led, 40-member team of the Trinamool Congress, comprising mostly party MPs.
“The PM appreciated our efforts towards the development of Bengal. He also lauded our fiscal discipline in difficult times,” Mamata Banerjee told reporters after the meeting. But the chief minister’s plea for debt and interest relief did not evoke any firm commitment from the Prime Minister.
The PM is expected to go to Bangladesh this year and the Teesta accord is being touted as a big boost for bilateral ties.
Earlier, Mamata had seemed to have reservations about both the Teesta accord and the Land Border Agreement. In 2011, she decided not to accompany then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka, causing huge embarrassment to New Delhi.
At the delegation-level meeting on Monday, Mamata Banerjee argued that her gover nment had inherited the loan burden from the Left government. To this, Modi politely reminded her that he, too, had inherited many problems of the past. Her renewed appeal to get some relief on the state’s loans from the Centre did not cut much ice. Later, an unusually detailed press release from the PMO listed the recent benefits given to the state. “West Bengal is better placed compared to the past and has adequate funds to meet its development needs fully,” the press release said.
While not committing to any debt relief, the PM pointed out the recent “unprecedented” increase in the states’ shares in central taxes to 42% from the earlier 32%. “In addition, the central government has accepted other recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission relating to revenue deficit grants and other grants. Among the large states, West Bengal is one of the most important beneficiaries of this decision,” said a PMO release.
The PM also pointed out that the Union government had decided to give West Bengal enhanced royalty on coal and other minerals which would provide additional revenue of almost Rs. 1,600 crore to the state annually. “In addition, Bengal will get Rs. 11,200 crore from the coal blocks that have been auctioned so far,” said the release.
At the meeting, when the Trinamool’s Kalyan Banerjee tried to raise his party’s objections to the coal block auction, the PM reportedly cut him short and reminded him that Bengal would be one of the biggest beneficiaries. “Bengal and Kolkata have to develop for their own sake and for the benefit of the region,” a PMO release said.