West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra began his 2012-13 Budget speech by blaming the previous Left Front government for the dire straits of state finances. He said: “In a dozen years, debt grew by a phenomenal 486 per cent. In per capita terms, the debt was the largest in the country. Tragically, each child born in West Bengal is carrying a debt of Rs 21,000 on his or her head.”
The expectation from Mitra, a trained economist and also former secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce of India, was high when he presented the Budget.
Yet, Bengal has actually cut outlays for the departments of panchayats and rural development, urban development, women and child development and social welfare.
However, the state announced a 129 per cent rise for the department of information and culture, a jump from Rs 48 crore to Rs 110 crore.
Perhaps the most interesting expenditure head is ‘studios’, where the government has set aside Rs 27.55 crore for acquisition and modernisation. There are at least four Trinamool Congress politicians who still act in Bengali cinema. They include two Members of Parliament and two Members of Legislative Assembly. They are Shatabdi Roy, Tapas Pal, Debasree Roy and Chiranjeet, in that order.
The outlay on awards, including the Bankim, Vidyasagar and Rabindra awards, has gone up to Rs 1.1 crore. The amount spent last year was Rs 11.5 lakh.
Spending on fairs and festivals is budgeted to go up to Rs 5 crore as against Rs 50 lakh last year. The amount to be spent on film festivals was increased to Rs 1 crore, as against Rs 60 lakh spent last year.
An amount of Rs 15 crore has been set aside for construction and development of the Rabindra Cultural Institution. Last year, Rs 15 lakh had been spent. This year is poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.
The ones to lose, however, are those who perhaps need money the most. The amount meant for distressed persons in the field of culture has come down from Rs 35 lakh in the previous year’s Budget estimates to Rs 10 lakh this year.
Rural budget slashed
The outlays (see chart) have been reduced for several important social schemes like the provident fund for landless agricultural labourers, primary and middle school education, NREGS, PMGSY, sewerage and sanitation.
One must note that the outlays have been reduced though government keeps spending more than what is budgeted on these schemes each year.
There could be overruns this year, too. For instance, for the Sishu Siksha Kendra and Madhya Siksha Karmasuchi, there was an overrun of Rs 60 crore in 2011-12. Still, only Rs 39 crore has been set aside for these heads in 2012-13.
The government had spent Rs 31 crore over the Budget allocation on sewerage and sanitation in 2011-12. Yet, in 2012-13, only Rs 21.3 crore has been set aside under this head.
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