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Mamata Banerjee, after promising monthly stipends for women, faces ‘financial shortage’ in keeping her poll promise

Desperate to keep the hopes of beneficiaries alive and not give up on the poll promise at the same time, the Mamata Banerjee government has decided to set eligibility criteria to cut down on the total number of beneficiaries.

Ahead of the West Bengal State Legislative polls, Mamata Banerjee had promised to provide a monthly stipend of ₹500 to General category women and ₹1000 to those belonging to the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe category. However, senior government officials have conceded that the West Bengal government does not have sufficient funds to benefit 2.5 crore families who are eligible for the scheme, reported IANS.

Desperate to keep the hopes of beneficiaries alive and not give up on the poll promise at the same time, the Mamata Banerjee government has decided to set eligibility criteria to cut down on the total number of beneficiaries. The State government is mulling to include the family income of a woman to determine whether she is eligible for the monthly stipend under the scheme Lakshmi Bhandar (Lakshmi’s treasure).

The new proposal is yet to be approved by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. However, the State Finance officials are convinced that the government does not have funds to benefit the female heads of all families. State Chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi had earlier hinted during a cabinet meeting that the government has been planning to include eligibility criteria to contain the number of beneficiaries. The scheme is scheduled to roll out from July 1.

Ambitious scheme of Mamata Banerjee to cost ₹11K crore each year, despite eligibility criteria

While speaking about the matter, a senior official stated that if the scheme includes 2.5 crore families, it will require funds to the tune of ₹20,000 crores. He said, “It will put huge pressure on the exchequer of the state. So initially 1.6 core families will get the benefit of the scheme and the government will have to spend Rs 11,000 crores annually to run the scheme. This will keep the money and the number of beneficiaries under control. We will consider the rest of the families later.”

The official further added, “The financial condition does not allow the state to make the scheme universal like Sabuj Sathi or old age pension. We just cannot bring all 2.5 crore families in the state under the scheme as it will push the financial burden to over Rs 20,000 crore annually.” Citing sources, IANS reported that the West Bengal government might have to cut down on fund allocation to other Departments to keep the Lakshmi Bhandar scheme afloat.

West Bengal government might be forced to make budget cuts for other Departments

The source added, “As it is not possible to cut down departmental allocations heavily, so the state is looking to arrange for funds for the scheme from some other sources too.” Another government official from the Finance Department claimed that the State had to spend on Covid and Yass cyclone relief work and that the financial situation was not in a ‘good condition.’ The Mamata Banerjee government is hoping to boost the rural economy through the scheme by pumping in ₹11,000 crores into the respective areas of the beneficiaries each year.

The government officials said that the State has maintained a database of beneficiaries of other schemes and that might be used for the launch of the scheme. A source said, “The state has detailed data of 33 lakh women beneficiaries of the social security scheme (Samajik Suraksha Yojana). These beneficiaries can be brought under the direct benefit transfer scheme immediately. For the remaining families, the government could seek applications.”

Supreme Court raps up Mamata Banerjee govt over ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme

On June 11, the Supreme Court of India ordered the West Bengal government to implement the One Nation One Ration Card scheme immediately. The apex court said that the state govt will have to implement the scheme without giving any excuse, and said they can’t cite one or another problem for not implementing the same. The court passed the ruling during the hearing of a suo moto case on the problems faced by migrant labourers during the lockdown.

“You can not cite one or the other problem. This is for migrant workers,” the court said, warning the Mamata Banerjee govt that the state can’t delay implementing the scheme any longer. Only three states have not implemented the One Nation One Ration Card scheme, Assam, Delhi, and West Bengal. This scheme by the central govt enables people to access items distributed under the Public Distribution System using a single ration card.

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