Mamata Banerjee announces Rs 1,000 cr allocation for old age pensions, financial assistance for farmers

Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday sought a vote-on-account for Rs 2.99 lakh crore as she opened the doors of state exchequer for common people ahead of the Assembly polls, showering the farm sector with sops and wooing the elderly and widows with pensions.

The Opposition BJP staged a noisy walkout shouting 'Jai Shri Ram' slogan, while the Left-Congress combine boycotted her speech. Both termed the largesse an "election manifesto".

Banerjee presented the vote on account in the absence of state finance minister Amit Mitra, who is not keeping well. The estimates for the first few months of the new fiscal, starting April, will be taken up for discussion over the next two days before the Assembly passes it.

Banerjee, while criticising the Centre for not extending "necessary help", insisted the state tirelessly undertook welfare measures for its people.

The TMC supremo, who is locked in a tug of war with challenger BJP ahead of the elections over claiming the legacy of Bengal icons, said her government will construct an Azad Hind Munument in Kolkata, Jai Hind Bhavans in districts and a State Planning Commission after legendary freeedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. She announced an overall outlay of Rs 215 crore for the projects.

Seeking to reach out to a vast section of the electorate, Banerjee announced old age pension for all people above the age of 60 years and widows aged over 18. An amount of Rs 1,000 crore was earmarked for this. She, however, did not specify the amount they would get as pension.

She said her government proposed to create 1.5 crore new jobs.

Recalling Bose's famous slogan "Give me blood, I will give you freedom", she asked the people to "keep faith in me, and I shall give you unconditional and selfless service with utmost dedication".

She said 20 lakh houses will be built for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and their dwellings upgraded for which Rs 1,500 crore will be allocated.

Banerjee said Rs 50 crore has been allocated for madrasas recognised by the government but not aided by it.

Seeking to reach out to farmers against the backdrop of peasants' protests, Banerjee said annual assistance to each farming family under the 'Krishak Bandhu Scheme' will be raised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000.

"We also request the central government to immediately release and distribute the financial assistance under the Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana," she said. The West Bangal government had only recently agreed to implement the scheme in the state.

The chief minister said the Swasthya Sathi card scheme of the state government which provides for cashless health cover, will be renewed every three years. Rs 1,500 crore has been allocated for the scheme, she said.

She said 100 new schools will be set up in tea gardens of the state besides 100 new English medium schools in areas with concentrated population of SC and ST communities.

Free rations to people distressed because of COVID-19 will continue even after June 2021 for which Rs 1,500 crore has been allocated.

She also announced setting up of community kitchens named 'Maa' for the state's poor and earmarked Rs 100 crore for it. These kitchens will provide food at a nominal price, but did not specify the amount a beneficiary will have to pay for each meal.

Banerjee announced creation of West Bengal Highway and Bridge Corporation which will be entrusted with construction of new bridges and highways. She also said Rs 150 crore will be spent on upgrading the Andal airport.

Rural roads spanning 46,000 km will be built over the next five years, she said.

"It seemed like the CM was presenting the annual budget and not a vote on account. It was absurd as she was making announcements without proper budgetary allocation," state BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.

Left Front's leader in the House Sujan Chakraborty said it was "laughable" to see her announce ambitious schemes when the tenure of her government was to expire in a couple of months.



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