April 9, 2009

A Rejoinder to Congress Report on West Bengal

Mon, 04/06/2009 - 05:50

West Bengal’s Finance Minister Ashim Dasgupta today refuted Congress leader and Union Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s allegations. He added that the allegations leveled by Mukherjee were completely bogus and were not based on credible facts but were politically motivated coming as they did just before the parliamentary elections.

Dr. Asim Dasgupta also criticized Pranab Mukherjee for depending on questionable findings of privately funded studies of small sample. He said that West Bengal fares better in the rate of reduction of poverty amongst many other states. In this regard West Bengal fares much better than the national average. In 1977 when the Left front Government formed the State Government in West Bengal for the first time, the rate of poverty in West Bengal was much more than that of the rest of India. At that time, the Congress was in power in West Bengal. Currently the percentage of people living under poverty line even if we were to accept the questionable methodology of the has decreased to 20% while about 22% people of rural India still lives under poverty line according to reports of the Planning Commission.

Answering to the allegation of Congress on the position of West Bengal as per the index of per capita income, Dr. Asim Dasgupta said that in the seventies West Bengal under the Congress rule was at the bottom of the chart. Furthermore, the freight equalization policy adopted by the Central Government in 1958-59 discriminated against the people of the state. Along with this at the time of partition there was an influx of a large number of refugees and the Central Government indifference to the their rehabilitation heavily burdened the State exchequer. At the same time it caused population explosion. But after coming to power in 1977 the West Bengal’s Left Front Government adopted many positive measures due to which this situation started to improve. According to statistical information available from the Central Government sources, in the year 2008-09 when the rate of agricultural growth in India has hovered around 2.6 per cent the corresponding rate of growth has been 4.1 % in West Bengal. In the case of industries when the rate of growth has been 4.1 percent in India the same rate in West Bengal if 5.8 %. When due to the current turmoil expert are predicting that the rate of growth of GDP is going to decrease to below 7 %, even at such a time West Bengal has maintained an average of about 7.8 % when it comes to the state domestic product. Even in the terms of the per capita income that State’s position is better than the national average.

On charges of the maximum occurrence of poverty in Murshidabad district and mentioning reports of Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) as a source he said that the ISI has not done any such work on Murshidabad district and it is not at all clear on whose basis this figure has been compiled and why the Congress is saying that Murshidabad is the poorest district of West Bengal. Though a survey conducted by the State Government has found that the incidence of poverty is there in Murshidabad still the situation is not as bad as is being projected by the Congress.

A survey conducted on behalf of the Panchayat and the Rural Development Department Government of West Bengal has pointed out that in the year 2008-09 in all the 40000 villages in the state and in 91 % of the 96265 habitats of West Bengal, West Bengal Government has been able to provide the people with access to safe drinking water.

He also said that the charges leveled by the Congress that 14 districts of West Bengal falls under the top 100 poorest districts of India are completely baseless and frivolous as the source of this is unknown. He said that the Human Development Index is 0.61 in West Bengal, which is much better than the national average.

In addition, consider the following facts:

Ø Hunger: Figures that are used for hunger are based on perception and not on scientific and objective criteria like calorie intake, under nourishment, underweight children, under five mortality. If these are taken as has been done by FAO’s hunger index then West Bengal ranks as the eighth least hunger affected State out of 17, ahead of Maharashtra, a Congress ruled State.

Ø Health: West Bengal’s Infant Mortality Rate at 37 continues to be lower than the Indian average of 55. (2007 SRS). The decline is most remarkable at an annual rate of 5.5 per cent.

Ø Maternal Mortality Rate in West Bengal is 19.4 as compared to all India average of 30.1.(NFHS 3). Reduction in MMR is far better than the all India average.

Ø The percentage of West Bengal children who are fully immunized is 64.3 per cent, which is again far above the all India average 43.5 per cent.

Ø Education: According to NSS 2004-2005 and annual State of Education report percentage of out of school children in age group 6-14 years in West Bengal is 4.8 for rural areas compared to 15 per cent eight years ago. As far as primary school dropouts is concerned, the national average is 9.36 per cent, while West Bengal is 8.56 per cent.

Ø Mid Day meal scheme: Pranab Mukherji quoted the CAG report. But the State of Education report 2007 found that mid-day meals in West Bengal were being provided in 98.3 per cent of schools in rural areas.

Ø Poverty: Rural poverty in West Bengal declined from 73.2% (percentage of persons below poverty line) in 1973-74 to 28.6% in 2004-05, as against the decline of poverty at the all-India level from 56.4% in 1973-74 to 28.3% in 2004-05. Urban poverty in West Bengal declined from 34.7% in 1973-74 to 14.8% in 2004-05, as against the decline of urban poverty at the all-India level from 49% in 1973-74 to 25.7% in 2004-05. Going by the Planning Commission’s estimate, West Bengal has achieved creditable success in poverty reduction, which is among the best in the country. In fact the Eleventh Plan document notes (Vol.3, Ch.4, p.80).

Ø Agricultural growth: 11th Plan document notes that between 1995 and 2005 it was 2.67 per cent in West Bengal, which was the third highest among all major States and way above national average of 1.85 per cent. In year 2008-2009 Indian agricultural growth was 2.6 per cent, which in W.Bengal is 4.1 per cent. While the acute agrarian crisis has led to farmers’ suicides in several States, especially Maharashtra, West Bengal has remained relatively immune from such acute distress. It is not surprising that the report, given its motivations, has carefully avoided any detailed discussion of agricultural performance. How can any analysis which ignores agriculture where the majority of the workforce is employed, be taken seriously?

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