The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has decided to spend money on social welfare schemes by deducting funds from ‘unnecessary’ activities like repairing and building new roads and bridges. In order to cut costs, the state government has announced a drastic 60% cut in the budget for the PWD department.
The state’s finances are badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown, and the CM has repeatedly spoken about reducing costs. As part of such cost-cutting measures, the Public Works (Roads) Directorate issued a notification on August 26, ordering a 59.55% cut in the budget of various road schemes. Even after cutting the budget, the officers have been asked to further reduce various road-related activities to cut costs.
The total budget for PWD and PWRD has been cut almost 60% from ₹4618 crore to ₹2750 crore, a cut of ₹1868 crore.
The budget for road works of South, West and North zone has been reduced from ₹1183 crore, ₹1335.72 crore and ₹581.94 crore to ₹700 crore, ₹795 crore and ₹395 crore, each reduction of 59.55%. Similarly, the budget for common schemes under PWRD, old and new bridges under PWD & PWRD, utility shifting and road works of PWD have been cut by 59.55%.
BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari posted a copy of the notification ordering budget cut in PWD on Twitter. He said that the WB govt is forcing the PWD department to bear the brunt because the govt has gone bankrupt. He questioned if development has taken a backseat in Bengal.
However, budget cut is not the only measure taken by the Mamata Banerjee government to cut costs. The government has asked to avoid widening roads as far as possible, virtually stopping any road widening project. The order also asks to convert ‘strengthening estimates’ to ‘surfacing estimates’ if feasible. This means roads that were supposed to be strengthened will now only get a fresh layer on their top, without strengthening the foundation of the roads.
The govt has also asked the officials to send the estimates of those roads first which are in bad condition.
This order to cut the PWD budget comes after the state government had announced the ‘Lakshmi Bhandar’ scheme, the state’s largest cash transfer scheme to women. The Lakshmi Bhandar Scheme aims to financially empower women aged between 25 and 60 from lower socio-economic classes who are not employed in government or the private sector. According to the scheme announced by the Mamata Banerjee government, ₹1000 will be given to female heads of SC and ST families, while ₹500 will be given to women who head general caste families. It is interesting that while Mamata Banerjee has been direct cash transfer schemes of the central govt, the money under this scheme will be paid through direct bank transfer to the beneficiaries.