People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 27, 2006
BUDDHABED’S SPEECH AT PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING
‘Public Investment In Certain Areas Is A Must’
Below we publish the text of the speech made by West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a regional level consultation meeting organised by the Planning Commission to discuss the Approach Paper towards Eleventh Five Year Plan.
THE draft Approach Paper to the Eleventh Five Year Plan had flagged the issues before us like the urgency for ushering in a second green revolution, increasing manufacturing competitiveness, upgrading the infrastructure etc. We are increasingly using public-private partnership mechanism innovatively in the provisioning of physical and social infrastructure. But one has to admit that it has its limitations. Very often the poor cannot afford to avail the facilities being provided by such institutions and they, by and large, depend on the services being provided by government institutions. Thus public investment in certain areas becomes an absolute necessity.
The decline in country’s agricultural growth rate to 1 per cent per annum in the first three years of the Tenth Plan is a matter of grave concern and requires serious introspection. As a result of this sharp fall in agricultural growth rate, rural poverty has been accentuated. To tackle the problem of rural poverty we have adopted programmes like National Rural Employment Guarantee. But these can only bring cosmetic changes, unless a serious attempt for land reforms is undertaken throughout the country. In this connection I am happy to point out that West Bengal has implemented land reforms vigorously to the extent that 53.2 per cent of total beneficiaries of land reforms in the country are from West Bengal. Its very favourable impact on increase in food production is clearly seen as we were able to register an agricultural growth rate of 3.64 per cent during the 10-year period from 1993-94 to 2003-04, whereas the corresponding figure for the country as a whole was only 1.53 per cent.
To give a boost to the horticulture sector, a Horticulture Mission was set up. A significant portion of our vegetable and fruit production perishes in the field. The pressing need for the growth of this sector is creation of modern storage facilities such as cold chain and marketing infrastructure. The state government would require adequate support for establishing cold chain facilities and modern market.
WATER MANAGEMENT AND IRRIGATION
In our country floods create havoc during monsoon. Rainwater harvesting is to be taken up very seriously to hold as much water as possible.
An exercise for linking some major rivers is under consideration. But it must be attempted only after thorough scrutiny of all technical and environment aspects. It is also to be ensured that the interests of the states concerned are protected.
We are absolutely at one with the thrust in the Approach Paper that the manufacturing sector, particularly the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector requires a big push. An appropriate strategy is to be evolved for the growth of the SME sector in a cluster approach and adequate provisioning of funds is necessary for creation of necessary infrastructure for this.
On this question of infrastructure I cannot but mention the example of China, which has made massive investment in infrasturcture. That could draw more FDI than ours. Investments are to be made without any further delay for setting up of new seaports, airports and highways to upgrade the status of our infrastructure.
EDUCATION AND HEALTH
To achieve total literacy and also to tackle the problem of drop-outs, while central support in programmes like mid-day meal, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan are to be continued, augmentation of funds is necessary in items like creation of additional class-rooms, toilets, drinking water facilities, school-health progamme etc. Similarly, economically poorer sections of our population are very much dependent on the government health infrastructure, which requires massive augmentation.
While in rural areas we have introduced National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, there is practically no programme at present to tackle abject urban poverty and unemployment. Though Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana (SJSRY) programme has a component for wage employment generation and another component for Thrift and Credit Groups for BPL women, the allocation under the programme is too meagre. It is necessary that the allocation under the wage component of SJSRY be sufficiently enhanced, which would ensure creation of civic infrastructure in smaller towns through wage employment generation. Further, the one-time allocation of revolving fund for Thrift and Credit Groups of women of BPL families in urban areas must be enhanced from Rs 1000 to a minimum of Rs 5000 per member.
PROBLEMS OF THE MINORITIES
The minorities account for 27 per cent of the population of West Bengal. They are generally economically deprived and deserve some special measures so that they have access to improved housing and educational facilities and their employment opportunities improve. To ensure this we may have to think of adopting a sub-plan approach, in which there will be separate provisioning of funds for them.
The Banking sector is to be sensitised so that small and marginal farmers, handlooms weavers, fishermen and self-help groups get adequate credit from financing institutions the coverage of Kisan Credit Scheme is to be increased manifold. The self-help groups in both urban and rural areas are to be provided with cash credit facilities.
SPECIAL PROBLEMS OF THE STATE
I will now touch upon a few specific problem areas pertaining to West Bengal, which require special attention.
The problem of Ganga-Padma rivers erosion has been a constant threat to our economy and livelihood. The problem is of gigantic nature. The rivers coming down from Bhutan create floods in North Bengal. Similarly, the river Ichamati linked with Bangladesh causes severe flooding in North 24-Parganas district. These are international rivers. So far only half-hearted attempts have been made to tackle these problems. It is necessary that a time-bound plan of action is adopted.
The Sundarbans, spanning a large chunk of land area in north and south 24-Paraganas districts of our state and consisting of 102 islands, of which 54 have human habitation, is the largest delta in the world. It has a population of over 40 lakhs. Here we are faced with the problem of coastal erosion (the embankments spread over a length of 3500 km), maintaining the bio-diversity with its mangrove forests and rich variety of wildlife, promoting eco-tourism by inviting tourists from home and abroad and last but not the least improving the quality of life of the people living in such remote areas. To suggest an appropriate strategy for development of Sundarbans area the Planning Commission set up a sub-committee sometime back. It is now necessary that the recommendations of the sub-committee are made available for implementation at the earliest. Financial support will very much be required here.
The problem of Arsenic contamination of ground water has been another problem affecting a number of districts in the state. In the past the central government has extended financial support to us to tackle the problem. The support is to be continued, as it is still a serious problem.
The state government is determined to complete the sub-stage I of Stage I of Teesta Barrage Project at the earliest which would irrigate 5.26 lakh hectares in North Bengal districts of Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur, Coochbehar and Malda, as against the present coverage of around 1.33 lakh hectares. This would involve a total investment of Rs 2068 crore. We have spent Rs 1043 crore so far. Considering the importance of early completion of the project, I would urge the Planning Commission to provide us 75 per cent of the balance fund of about Rs 1000 crore as grant under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP).
In the field of renewable energy we have already commissioned projects to the tune of 42 MW by utilising rice-husk, wind power, hydel and solar energy. This would go up to 100 MW by 2010. Here we are facing discrimination in the hill district of Darjeeling, since we are getting central financial assistance to the tune of 50 per cent only as compared to 90 per cent support being extended to Uttaranchal, Sikkim and other north eastern states. I would like to suggest Darjeeling be treated at par with its neighbour Sikkim in this respect. We have received all clearances for setting up of a 4 MW Tidal Power Station in Sundarbans at a cost of Rs 40 crore, which will be the first of its kind in the country. I seek 100 per cent central support in this as a pilot project.