People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXI

No. 25

June 24, 2007

Thirty Years of Left Front Government in West Bengal

 

Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

 

THE Left Front government in West Bengal has been in office for the last thirty years since its first installation on June 21, 1977. The uninterrupted tenure of this government, elected by the people of the state for seven consecutive terms, is a significant event in the history of world democracy.

 

CHANGED LIFE IN COUNTRYSIDE

 

West Bengal is free from religious intolerance, caste conflicts and ethnic tensions. The state has a glorious tradition of communal harmony. The people of West Bengal take special care for strengthening the democratic secular polity of our country.

 

The Left Front government in West Bengal is committed to pursuing an alternative path of development aimed at raising the common manís standard of living. We have been implementing schemes and programmes to mitigate the hardships of the economically backward and middle class people.

 

West Bengal has made significant strides in several directions over the last three decades. Thirty years ago, our government initiated land reform measures. Major emphasis was placed on the redistribution of ceiling surplus land among the landless poor agricultural labourers. It was also decided to ensure the rights of sharecroppers. As a result of these land reforms, small and marginal farmers now own 84 percent of the total agricultural land in West Bengal. More than 55 percent of the beneficiaries belong to the SCs, STs and the minorities. The programme called Operation Barga has been successfully implemented and the names of a large number of sharecroppers have been registered in the record of rights relating to agricultural land in the state.

 

In 1978, West Bengal gave a radically new orientation to its panchayat bodies following the electoral commitment of the Left Front. Since then, panchayats in our state, provided with decentralised powers, have been playing a very important role in building rural public assets and in executing the development schemes and projects in the countryside.

 

We have taken steps to strengthen the institutional capacities of our panchayat bodies. Our efforts are being directed towards furthering gender equity and social inclusion. Our panchayats are also discharging their responsibilities of empowering women and of providing elementary education in various areas, along with promoting public health and livelihood options.

 

The total number of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in West Bengal is now 5.3 lakhs. These SHGs comprise 53 lakh members, of whom 90 per cent are women. The rural sanitation programme is progressing well in our state, and 74 percent of the rural households now have access to sanitation facilities. A number of gram panchayats and panchayat samities have been awarded Nirmal Gram Puraskar by the government of India.

 

The land reform measures and the activities of village panchayats in West Bengal have brought about remarkable changes in the quality of life in the stateís rural areas. The effect of land redistribution has got reflected in the increase of foodgrain production. Irrigation facilities have been enhanced. Seeds and other inputs of cultivation are being provided to the peasants. The total foodgrain production, mainly rice, has been steadily increasing. Fish production, too, has reached new heights. West Bengal holds the top position in the inland fisheries sector in the country. The purchasing power of the rural people of West Bengal has significantly gone up, resulting in the increasing demand for industrial goods.

 

SECOND STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT

 

Now the state government is laying stress on the second stage of rural development programmes. Agri-business has been identified as one of the key areas of development in West Bengal. The state is now developing five agri-export zones, food parks, cold chain and other forms of infrastructure. A modern multi-food processing unit, set up by the Dabur in North Bengal, has started functioning. Frito-Lay India has established a food processing unit in the district of Howrah. Our government is striving hard to sustain its success on the agricultural front.

 

Based on the significant growth in agricultural sector, West Bengal is moving fast to accelerate the pace of its industrial development. It is now recognised as one of the leading states in India in respect of industrial investment. The economic environment of West Bengal is conducive to the promotion of manufacturing and knowledge based industries.

 

The economy of West Bengal has been growing at an average rate of more than 8 percent annum for the last few years. The state offers vast opportunities for investment in areas such as iron and steel, chemicals and petrochemicals, IT and IT enabled services, gem and jewellery, leather, engineering, agri-business, bio-technology, real estate, health services and tourism. The state government announced its industrial policy in 1994. West Bengal provides attractive facilities to investors. These include the availability of raw materials, an advantageous location, a good network of communications, low cost of operations, a sound agricultural base, a large and concentrated market, and a good pool of human capital and skills. I think investors are now convinced of the pro-active role of our government. The state government has been pursuing an industry friendly policy. For the last five years the annual industrial investment in West Bengal has been more than Rs 2,000 crore.

 

West Bengalís growth in some sectors deserves special mention. In the chemical and petrochemical sector, three major units --- Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporationís PTA plant, and South Asia Petrochemicals --- have been working successfully for the last few years. Japanís single largest FDI in India has been made through the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporationís PTA plant (MCC-PTA) at Haldia.
In West Bengal, the iron and steel industry is regarded as one of the thrust areas of growth. West Bengal is a major leather producing state. The newly set-up Kolkata Leather Complex offers modern facilities for the development of leather related activities including tanning, manufacturing and designing. The West Bengal government is also concentrating on promoting micro and small scale enterprises and textiles. The state government is spearheading many initiatives and partnerships to develop West Bengal as the regional commercial hub in the East.

 

Our government is stepping up efforts to develop the infrastructure sector. At present, the power position in the state is stable. We are proceeding with our plans for creating significant power capacity addition in the public sector. Three new satellite townships, world class expressways, ports, a seaport, a logistics hub, construction of roads and bridges are some of the important initiatives undertaken by us. It is necessary to appreciate the fact that the state government alone cannot develop, upgrade and maintain the infrastructure sector. We believe that the public-private partnership (PPP) can harmoniously work to offer adequate infrastructure facilities. We have already taken several effective initiatives in this area.

 

SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

 

Our state, though a late starter in the field of information technology, has achieved remarkable growth over the last decade. At the moment, there are more than 250 IT companies which are providing direct employment to over 50,000 professionals. These companies registered an export earning of over Rs 3,500 crore in the financial year ending March 2007. The IT industries in West Bengal are also creating jobs in the support service sector, housing projects, infrastructure etc. West Bengal today is the home to most leading names in the IT sector, including TCS, Wipro, IBM, Cognizant, PWC, HCL, Genpac, Skytech, Siemens, HSBC etc. Foreign as well as domestic IT companies are operating in the state, contributing to its economy.
The department of information technology has been constantly striving to attract high-end IT companies, KPOs and BPOs to the state to generate more employment and increase export revenues. It is our vision to emerge among the top 3 states contributing around 15 percent to 20 percent of the total revenues generated by this sector in the country. The government is trying to focus on high-end and VLSI industry and to develop satellite IT hubs in towns such as Silliguri, Durgapur, Kalyani, Kharagpur and Haldia. While IT parks on PPP model have already been launched at Silliguri and Durgapur, efforts are being made to develop an advanced IT park near the IIT at Kharagpur.

 

In the sphere of education, our government is making progress in spreading universal and free elementary education. We have accorded priority to the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All campaign). A mass literacy programme has been continuing in the state over the years. West Bengal has achieved 75 percent literacy rate. Stress is being laid on extending and expanding the technical education schemes and vocational training programmes. Computer education has been introduced in the state on a fairly large scale. The number of schools has increased, and at the same time, the dropout rate is decreasing. The mid-day meal programme in schools is being carried out with the participation of all concerned. In new areas, colleges are being set up, and the growing number of students passing out from these institutions indicates the gradual improvement of our educational standards. Several universities with special orientations such as law, engineering, medicine, technology and animal and fishery sciences have been set up to meet the needs of a large number of students. All the universities of the state have been functioning creditably. The University of Calcutta has completed the 150 years of its existence. We are setting up some centres of excellence at the higher education level. Kolkata occupies an important place in the history of science education and research in India. Our state has the distinction of having a number of internationally reputed scientific research institutes. The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research at Kolkata, recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, is a significant addition in the sphere of higher education and research in West Bengal. Our state is internationally acclaimed as a seat of culture. We must keep alive the cultural tradition of West Bengal.

 

West Bengal has a comprehensive healthcare system. The state government caters to the healthcare needs of 72 percent of its people. Recently we have taken a number of steps to improve the condition of the state-run hospitals and health centres. Special care is being taken to improve the quality of the primary health centres in the state. We are concentrating on improving the health infrastructure.

 

We are implementing and promoting different programmes to serve the interests of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and hill people. A minority sub-plan is going to be soon introduced in the state.

 

West Bengal has a pioneering role in providing unemployment benefits to the workers of locked-out industries. The scheme, introduced in 1998, now provides financial assistance of Rs 750 per month to every worker of the registered factories and plantations that are locked out.

 

We have already launched a scheme of provident fund for the unorganised sector workers in the state. Some schemes are being implemented for the welfare of the building and other construction workers of the state.

 

It is incumbent on us to step up the all-round development of West Bengal. The process of economic development is moving from agriculture to industry. Thousands of young men and women are seeking jobs. It is they who will shape the future of our country. We cannot afford to fail them. We have to strive our utmost to live up to the peopleís expectations.