Saturday, February 27, 2021

‘Anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-country’: Bengal CM Mamata on Budget 2021

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The tussle between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its main challenger in the coming assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), intensified on Monday after Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced important road infrastructure projects for Bengal and a 1000 crore package for tea-garden workers in the state and Assam.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee branded the budget as “anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-country” during a trip to north Bengal where the BJP bagged seven of the region’s eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019. Union home minster Amit Shah, on the other hand tweeted in Bengali that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released a grant of 25,000 crore for “development of the state and convenience of its people” and 1000 crore for the “welfare of tea garden workers”.

Among the salient points of the Union budget was the allocation of 25,000 crore for road infrastructure development and renovation of roads connecting Kolkata to Siliguri, the biggest town in north Bengal.

Sitharaman also announced that 675 km of roadway will be developed and there will be freight corridors between Kharagpur in West Midnapore district and Vijayawada and between Dankuni in Hooghly district and Gomo in Bihar. She also announced an East-West freight corridor in Bengal.

Banerjee arrived in Siliguri shortly after the budget speech ended and headed for a cultural event held by the state government. Her speech, however, was marked by political rhetoric.

“This is an anti-farmer, anti-people, anti-country budget. They are selling all PSUs, BSNL, airports and railways. They are also selling banks and 74% of Life Insurance Corporation of India. Be very careful. You keep your money in banks. Some day you may hear that all your money is gone,” Banerjee told the audience.

The TMC chief took a swipe at the Centre on the issue of infrastructure, saying the state government has done enough and is capable of taking care of its roads.

“We do not need money to build roads. Give this money to the farmers and withdraw the farms laws. The government is forgiving the loans of some billionaires. For the BJP, these people are Ma Laxmi (Hindu Goddess of wealth) while poor people get nothing. They don’t even buy railway tickets for migrant workers but those who steal millions are flown to Delhi in chartered planes,” said Banerjee.

Her remark was directly targeted at her former minister Rajib Banerjee, three sitting MLAs and a former legislator who flew to Delhi in a chartered plane on Saturday to join the BJP at Shah’s residence.

“I will not comment on the chief minister’s statement,” said Banerjee after attending his first meeting at a BJP office in Howrah district from where he was elected twice.

Banerjee also took on the Centre for announcing a package for tea-garden workers.

“Why announce another 1000 crore when you have not kept your old promises? I have many plans for north Bengal. New industries will be set up here. You (voters) defeated me in north Bengal in the Lok Sabha. I don’t feel any shame because I know you will compensate me. Did those BJP MPs do anything for you? They did nothing. This time please vote for the TMC,” Banerjee said.

In a surprise move, she announced a prize of 2 lakh for the dancers who took part in Monday’s cultural event.

Addressing a virtual press conference, Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra said, “The only clarity in the budget is on how to sell the country’s resources. During the Covid-19 pandemic the rich became richer. The middle class don’t appear in the budget and the poor are in bad shape.”

BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya dismissed the allegations. “I thank the Prime Minister for the development packages. He has paved the path for building Sonar Bangla (golden Bengal),” he said.

People in the local tea industry welcomed the welfare package but said they were disappointed as well.

B K Saria, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association, said “We are happy that the Centre has announced a 1000 crore package for welfare of tea-garden workers. But we are disappointed that it has not announced anything for the industry. It would have been appreciated had they announced something for the welfare of the companies.”

P K Bhattacharjee, secretary general of Tea Association of India, said, “We welcome the provision for a special scheme for women and children in the tea gardens of Assam and West Bengal. Women comprise more than 50% of the workforce. The impact of the proposed minimum wages for all categories of workers has to be examined once the wages are notified.”

(With inputs from Siliguri).

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