Mamata Banerjee's Durga Puja Doles Don't Help Bengal

by Ujjawal Mishra - Aug 24, 2022 07:25 PM +05:30 IST
Mamata Banerjee's Durga Puja Doles Don't Help BengalNew-found love for Hindu festivals (Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)

The Bengal CM's latest populist measures are estimated to cost the indebted state exchequer around Rs 350 crore, plus more.

Context: Mamata Banerjee announced a 20 per cent hike in doles to durga puja organising committees, from Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000, on 22 August.

That's not all — 60 per cent of the electricity charges incurred by the puja committees will be waived. Last year, the waiver amounted to 50 per cent of the power bill.

How it hurts Bengal: Since there are 40,092 registered durga pujas in the state, the doles will result in an outgo of Rs 240.55 crore from state coffers.

  • In addition, the waiver of power dues will cost the state exchequer an estimated Rs 100 crore.

  • Bengal’s outstanding debt burden is nearly Rs 5.9 lakh crore and forms 34.23 per cent of its GSDP.

  • Cash-strapped and indebted, Bengal can ill-afford this completely unproductive dole that wasn't even needed.

  • In fact, all the community durga pujas in Bengal were doing just fine when Banerjee was not in power in the state.

Quote: Saying there is no need for doles, Shibu Ghosh, an organising committee member of a big-budget durga puja in central Kolkata, tells Swarajya:

  • “All community durga pujas, even the smallest ones, are organised with donations (mostly voluntary) from the community."

  • "More than 50 per cent of the organising committees get advertisements and, thus, don’t need the dole at all."

  • "The bigger pujas have budgets running into lakhs, and even crores, of rupees and the dole of Rs 60,000 is loose change for them."

Gets worse: The CM announced a 11-day holiday for state government offices from 30 September (Panchami, or the day before the durga pujas commence) to 10 October (the day after Lakshmi puja).

  • Last year, durga puja holidays stretched over nine days — the longest off period that any state gave its employees.

  • Bengal is notorious for its poor work culture and the laid-back attitude of government employees. More holidays don't help.

  • Even students of educational institutions funded and aided by the government in Bengal enjoy more holidays than their peers elsewhere.

  • A long holiday means the entire state machinery grinds to a halt. And that includes the entire public delivery system, which ultimately affects the people of the state.

Does Mamata care? The impact of more holidays on Bengal's already dismal work culture makes little difference to the populist CM.

She believes that giving government employees and students undeserved holidays is the best way to keep them happy.

Well, the unsaid stuff: It is feared that Banerjee will leverage these doles to durga puja committees to justify further appeasement of Muslims.

  • She has faced a lot of criticism for her appeasement of Muslims, an issue which has helped the BJP grow in Bengal.

  • It was only after the BJP started making inroads in the state that Banerjee became benevolent towards Hindus and started giving grants for durga pujas.

Quote: Sociologist Supriya Nayak says: “Because she (Mamata Banerjee) plans to give much bigger handouts to Muslims and she wants to preclude any criticism of her ‘Muslim appeasement’ by contending that she gives doles to Hindus also. This is a mischievous plan."

The BJP not having it: The party has dismissed any possible impact of the doles. “(They) are a gimmick and we fear that it will become another avenue for corruption and siphoning off public funds by her party functionaries. And people of the state will not be fooled by such gimmicks,” former BJP state president Rahul Sinha said.

Bottom line: A good administrator with the state’s interests at heart would have avoided handing out such doles and, for state employees, a long holiday.

Adapted from Jaideep Mazumdar's article.

Ujjawal Mishra is a Staff Writer at Swarajya. He tweets @Ujjawal1Mishra.
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