June 11, 2009

Changing political dynamics hits Bengal's social sector projects

Kolkata June 10, 2009: Political setbacks often claim victims in the social sector. The fate of at least eight proposed centrally-funded scientific research institutes of national importance has become uncertain because of the electoral defeat suffered by the Left in West Bengal. They are National Institute of Nano Science (under the Department of Science and Technology), National Institute of Mangrove Research and Coastal Biosphere (under the Ministry of Environment), Institute of Ocean Technology (under the Ministry of Earth Science), National Innovation Centre (CSIR), National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (under the Ministry of Chemicals), National Institute of Biology and Medical Genetics (under the Ministry of Biotechnology), Centre for Space Application for East and North-East (Under the Ministry of Space Technology) and National Institute of Public Health (under Ministry of Health).

According to state government sources, the central government earlier had cleared proposals to set up and fund all these institutes much before the recent general elections and for most of them site selection and land acquisition process had been complete. Sujan Chakrabarty, former Lok Sabha member from Jadavpur, who was actively pursuing the various central ministries for speedy clearance and implementation of these projects, feels that after the election the political dynamics has changed a lot and there is strong reason to apprehend that execution of all these projects would slow down or might not take off at all.

In the aftermath of cyclone Aila, which recently devastated the coastal region of south Bengal, Anandadev Mukhopadhaya, an eminent oceanologist, has stressed the need for more research on the nature of ocean and rivers to evolve a knowledge-based strategy to tackle the natural disasters. Proposed institues like National Institute for Ocean Technology, National Institute of Mangrove Research and Coastal Biosphere, among others, could go a long way to mitigate that need. But because of the change in political equation with the Centre, the state apprehends a slowing down process to set in. Already there are indications that some of the ministries in Delhi have cooled down to the queries sent from Kolkata in pursuance of the set up of the institutes.

Political observers feel that West Bengal has entered into a phase of political transition, as the Congress-Trinamool Congress combine is aggressively occupying the political space and pushing the ruling Left to a corner after its massive victory in the Lok Sabha elections. Everyday, there are reports of clashes coming from rural Bengal and the suburbs of Kolkata.
The ruling Left parties are in total disarray. Some of the ruling party MLAs had been manhandled by the Trinamool workers. The political circles feel that the situation will further hot up in the next two years till the Assembly election takes place in 2011. Since the state’s main Opposition Trianmool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, has taken part in the UPA government at the Centre, there would be pressure on the Centre for not clearing centrally-funded projects in the state speedily.

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