Why Mamata Banerjee’s Latest Durga Puja Doles Are Harmful For Bengal

Why Mamata Banerjee’s Latest Durga Puja Doles Are Harmful For Bengal

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Tuesday, August 23, 2022 06:11 PM IST
Why Mamata Banerjee’s Latest Durga Puja Doles Are Harmful For BengalMamata Banerjee
  • More than the huge burden that Mamata Banerjee’s latest doles will impose on the state exchequer, it is the fear that she will leverage these doles to Durga Puja committees to justify more appeasement of Muslims that lurks in the minds of many.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has indulged in yet another bout of populism that will ultimately harm the state.

At a meeting with representatives of Durga Puja organising committees on Monday, Banerjee announced a 20 per cent hike in doles to Puja organising committees from Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000.

Also, 60 per cent of the electricity charges incurred by the Puja committees will be waived. The waiver was 50 per cent of the power bill last year.

The cash doles to the Puja organising committees will result in an outgo of Rs 240.55 crore from the state coffers. There are 40,092 registered Durga Pujas in the state. Cash-strapped Bengal, which is mired in outstanding debt, can ill-afford this huge dole which is completely unproductive.

Also, the waiver of power dues will cost the state exchequer an estimated Rs 100 crore. This is another populist measure that will impose an unbearable financial burden on the state.

To make matters worse, the chief minister announced an eleven-day holiday for state government offices and undertakings starting from September 30 (Panchami, or the day before the Durga Pujas commence) to October 10 (the day after Lakshmi Puja).

The image of Bengal, which is already notorious for its poor work culture and laid-back attitude of government employees, will take a further beating due to this.

Last year, the Durga Puja holidays stretched over a nine-day period. That itself was the longest stretch of holidays that any state gave to its employees. Bengal has already become infamous for the many holidays it gives to its employees, and this eleven-day holiday will bring more infamy to the state.

Long holidays means the entire state machinery grinding to a halt and no business or work being transacted in any government office or organisation. The entire public delivery system will ground to a complete halt, thus affecting the people of the state.

The number of holidays that state government employees, as well as students of government funded and aided educational institutions, enjoy in Bengal is the highest amongst all other states. No other state has so many public holidays.

But that means little to Mamata Banerjee, whose propensity to announce holidays for offices and educational institutions, is well known. The beating that the state’s image suffers, and the blow that so many holidays deliver to its already dismal work culture, make little difference to the populist chief minister.

That's because Mamata Banerjee believes that giving government employees and students undeserved holidays is the best way to keep them happy.

But more than the huge burden that Mamata Banerjee’s latest doles have imposed on the state exchequer, it is the fear that she will leverage these doles to Durga Puja committees to justify more appeasement of Muslims that lurks in the minds of many.

There is no need, say many, for doles to Durga Puja organising committees. All the community Durga Pujas in Bengal were doing just fine when Mamata Banerjee was not in power in the state.

“All community Durga Pujas, even the smallest one, are organised with donations (mostly voluntary) from the community and there is no need for doles. 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,” said Shibu Ghosh, an organising committee member of a big-budget Durga Puja in central Kolkata.

Mamata Banerjee also knows that the dole of Rs 60,000 is not required by most Puja committees. So why give this cash grant?

“Because she 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,” said sociologist Supriya Nayak.

Mamata Banerjee has come in for a lot of criticism for her appeasement of Muslims and she has become somewhat sensitive to such criticism that has helped the BJP grow in Bengal. It was only after the BJP started making inroads in the state that she became benevolent towards Hindus and started giving grants to Durga Pujas.

But her act of balancing Muslim appeasement with meaningless doles to Hindus will have little impact, say BJP leaders. “Her doles to Durga Puja committees 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,” said former BJP state president Rahul Sinha.

Bengal’s outstanding debt burden is nearly Rs 5.9 lakh crore and forms 34.23 per cent of its GSDP. As such, even a small addition to this needs to be avoided at all costs.

The Rs 240 crore dole to Puja organising committees, the estimated Rs 100 crore waiver of power bills, as the huge loss of mandays (because of the eleven-day holiday) will add to the state’s debt burden.

A good administrator who has the state’s interests at heart would have avoided handing out such doles and giving state employees such a long holiday.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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