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Bengal debt upsets babus’ teacups

Subhendu Maiti

india Updated: Apr 14, 2011 21:30 IST
Subhendu Maiti

If you are planning to visit the Bengal chief secretary’s office make sure you carry along your own tea and some sympathy. On April 11, a finance department circular citing the state’s new austerity measures, ended all hopes of hospitality and better infrastructure.

The measure, meant to help tide over the ongoing financial crunch, put a stop to all office expense for government and government funded offices –- stationery, tea and snacks, newspapers and journals, local conveyance and even purchase of uniform of group D staff like sweepers –- indefinitely.

“The government has become bankrupt and the circular is a reflection of this bitter truth,” said Kamal Kumar Chakravarti, secretary, West Bengal Government Secretariat Officer’s Forum.

Besides salaries and pensions, the only payments to be made are for elections, medicines and diet for patients in hospitals and jails, medical reimbursements for employees, electricity and phone bills. The department has already stopped paying contractors in departments including irrigation, PWD and power.

With over Rs 1,000 crore outstanding, the contractors’ associations recently said they will soon stop work.

The March salary was paid to four transport undertakings on April 6 instead of the stipulated first day of the month. For April salaries and pensions, the government needs to shell out Rs 2,700 crore and the finance secretary is camping out in Delhi to raise fresh debts to the tune of Rs 1,400 crore.

On April 11, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had warned the Trinamool chief that she will inherit a state that can slide into a debt trap by 2014-15. “In the last fiscal year, it has a total debt of 1.62 lakh crore,” Mukherjee had said.

Currently, about 92% of the state’s revenue income goes towards meetings debt obligations.