June 1, 2009

Mamata wants Centre not to give money to Bengal for cyclone relief

NEW DELHI. 30 May 2009: The feud between resurgent Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee and the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal has escalated, spreading to the issue of central assistance to the state for the damage caused by the recent cyclone. 

The Trinamool leader and railway minister plans to ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to accept West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's demand for Rs 1,000 crore in central assistance to help his state repair the damage caused by cyclone Aila. Meanwhile, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee held a meeting with the CM on Friday in Kolkata, on the cyclone issue. 

The move follows Bhattacharjee's letter to the PM on Thursday. Early on, the PM had called up the chief minister to inquire about the extent of devastation and had promised to help. 

Banerjee's demand can put the Centre in a bind. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who believes in playing by the book, has an excellent rapport with the West Bengal CM, during the UPA's last tenure when Left partnered the government. In fact, she has also decided to demand a probe into how the disaster management fund has been spent and would ask the Centre to have direct interactions with district magistrates in the state, it is learnt. 

But getting around the Trinamool wall will not be easy. Mamata has crucial numbers in Lok Sabha and is known for stubbornly sticking to her positions even in the face of widesspread opposition. As a matter of fact, she is said to be upset with Pranab Mukherjee for meeting with Bhattacharjee. Banerjee had met Mukherjee on Thursday over the cyclone relief issue.

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