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Mamata Banerjee seeks ₹25,000-cr relief package from Centre

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on April 01, 2020 Published on April 01, 2020

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee   -  PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, has written to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, seeking a relief package of ₹25,000 crore and has also urged that the Centre clear pending dues of ₹36,000 crore.

A slowdown and then a coronavirus-induced lockdown with near suspension of economic activities has led to revenues drying up. Against the backdrop, Banerjee maintained that devolution (or the State’s share in taxes) has also been reduced by nearly ₹11,000 crore.

It was in this context that the Chief Minister claimed that West Bengal was in the midst of a “debt trap” and in the current situation servicing of such debt was also becoming difficult.

“…the State Finances (of West Bengal), like that of other States, is in a dire situation with practically no revenue flows after the closure of almost all businesses… and even with the massive debt trap left behind by the previous government, we were able to service the debt so far, but the future remains uncertain,” she wrote.

Banerjee has also raised the issue of staff salaries and pointed out that unlike other States, West Bengal has managed to make full payment of all dues – salaries, wages and pension. However, funds would be required to fulfill commitments to “girl students, farmers, unorganised workers, weaker sections, minorities” and so on.

She maintained that previous suggestions on relaxing “several key parametres pertaining to debt management in the current situation” would not suffice considering the “deteriorating” financial condition. “Therefore, I earnestly urge you to sanction a grant of minimum ₹25,000 crore for West Bengal and release the funds still due to us from the GoI,” the Chief Minister wrote.

Incidentally, West Bengal – amongst the most debt stressed States – has an annual interest payment to the tune of ₹50,000 crore. Banerjee has time and again sought a moratorium claiming that the debts were raised during the Left Front’s rule. She had again been raising the demand for a moratorium since there was a slowdown in economic activity in the country.

Coronavirus outbreak

In a bid to curb the coronavirus outbreak, the Chief Minister announced the setting up a dedicated or nodal Covid-19 hospital in all 22 districts. There will be three such dedicated facilities in Kolkata.

Patients from the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital – one of the premiere state-run hospitals – have either been discharged or transferred to other facilities, making it a completely dedicated one to deal with Covid-19 cases.

Over the last few days, and following increased testing, the State has seen a rise in number of Covid-19 patients. Till 5 PM on Wednesday, there were 31 active cases, three recovered after treatment and three deaths, according to the Chief Minister.

Reacting to questions on the number of people who have been identified for attending a religious gathering by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi, Banerjee said there were 71 people from Bengal who had attended the event. Of these 54 have been identified and quarantined. A few more have been traced. “Nearly 40 of these 71 people were foreigners,” she said. A number of persons who had attended the event there earlier in March have been tested positive for Covid-19 across different States.

Published on April 01, 2020

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