From graft to rising debt-to-revenue gap, Mamata’s multiple minefields

Kolkata: West Bengal will be one of the most keenly watched states in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls as Union Home Minister Amit Shah has set the target for the BJP to increase its tally from 18 seats in 2019 to 35 in 2024 and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will do all to defend her turf.

It remains to be seen whether the BJP will be able to decimate the ruling Trinamool Congress’ organisational supremacy, riding on the issue of corruption and numerous central agency probes or will Mamata Banerjee’s magic work again like it did in the 2021 Assembly polls.

Apart from the elections, the progress of investigations by the CBI and the ED in various cases of money laundering, particularly in the multi-crore cash-for-school job case will be keenly watched by all.

The other factor on the radar of observers will be the pathetic condition of state finances due to the low generation of revenue and the rising accumulated and per capita debt of the state.

According to political observers, the first four months of the next calendar year i.e. the period before the Lok Sabha polls, will be extremely crucial with regards to the various corruption cases being probed by the central agencies.

This is because the Supreme Court, while reverting back all the cases in the alleged school job scam to the Calcutta High Court, has made it clear that it will not make any further intervention in the matter till the final verdicts from different Benches of the High Court surface.

Currently, the regular Benches of the Calcutta High Court are not operating because of the ongoing Christmas and year-end holidays. However, as the courts will resume work from January 2, crucial hearings in the matter both at the Division Bench of Justice Debangshu Basak and Justice Shabbar Rashidi as well as the single-judge Bench of Justice Amrita Sinha are lined up.

Observers say these proceedings will be keenly followed as the directions given during the hearings will turn out to be defining moments for the investigation in the school job case.

Second, both the Supreme Court and the Calcutta High Court have set deadlines for the CBI and ED to complete their investigations in the school job case and the sleuths are working round-the-clock to meet their deadlines.

The counsels of both the agencies have informed the courts that the investigations are in the final stages and will be wound up soon.

So, the progress of the investigations in the first four months of 2024 will be under focus given the speculation that other politically-influential persons might come into the ED and CBI’s net.

Another point of focus will be the poor health of the state exchequer. As per the latest findings of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), West Bengal is behind the national average in terms of the state’s own tax revenue to Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) percentage, which is five per cent as compared to the seven per cent national average.

The situation in the case of non-tax revenue in West Bengal is even more pathetic. As per the RBI, the percentage of the state’s non-tax revenue of the GSDP is just 0.4 per cent, which is lower than the national average of 1.2 per cent.

The West Bengal Government’s current spending for infrastructure development as a percentage of GSDP is just two per cent.

Even more alarming is the fact that the state’s accumulated debt, as per the budget papers of the West Bengal Government for 2024-24, is slated to rise to Rs 6,47,825.52 crore, by March 31, 2024. This is a ten per cent rise over the figure of Rs 5,86,124.63 crore, as on March 31, 2023. To make matters worse, the state’s per capita debt for the same period is slated to rise to Rs 59,000. Per capita debt is derived by dividing the total accumulated debt by the total population in the state.

So, now it remains to be seen how all these factors impact the Mamata Banerjee Government in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls and how much advantage the BJP can take of these sore points for the ruling party.


Also Read

Comments are closed.