People's Democracy

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


No. 12

March 23, 2008



Empowering of the poor

B Prasant

THE Bengal budget for the current financial year (FY) has prioritised visibly and impressively the empowerment of the poor in setting out its budgetary allocations and allotments. The budget attaches great emphasis on land development, agriculture, capitalised industries, big-small-medium, education, literacy, and mass health.

The infrastructural development will be done in a way and manner that the result will be the continuous upliftment -- social-economic-political in the sense of empowerment -- of the poorest of the poor. In particular, small landholders and small traders will reap the biggest chunk of the financial and infrastructural benefits.

Opportunities and avenues – multi-tiered and multifaceted – shall open up before the mass of the people for economic development. The increase in the linear growth of production shall be of beneficent help to the enhancement of employment and widening of the income base.

The consequences of development-oriented growth of the economy, pro-people and pro-poor, shall encompass not merely certain sections of the populace and certain quarters of the topography – but shall expand over the comparatively backward societal tiers, and across the urban and rural expanses.

Rs 11,967 crore shall form part of the plan budget. This sum had stood at Rs 9683 crore last FY. What is noteworthy is the fact that the orientation of the Bengal budgets with the successive Left Front governments in office has been directed towards the empowerment of the poor and the downtrodden, the weaker sections and the weaker economic groups, cutting across lines of caste, gender, religion, community, and arching over the World Bank pontificating gravely and worriedly about the ‘Third World urban-rural divide.’

The state domestic product growth rate is expected to be nothing less than 9 per cent, just under the double-digit figure that may make the economy on the way to overheating. The total number of employment to be generated makes for hopeful reading – for the mass of the people, while throwing into theoretical disarray the right-wing economists of gloom-and-doom (and their so-called ‘left-leaning’ underlings) who seek to prop up desperately the thesis of ‘liberalisation of economy’ at every functional and political level.

The employment figures predicted, and here we are speaking of direct employment, one should recall, are 3 lakh in agriculture; 2.5 lakh in industries; and 3 lakh in self-help groups and self-employment schemes. The Left Front government realises that the scope for employment before the poor and the toiling masses depend largely on the amount of empowerment they possess at the ground level, in the implementational schema.

If the tiller is not empowered, employment opportunities in agriculture will go on shrinking, or at least would not go up. If there is no empowerment of workers and the small entrepreneur, employment in industries will go down rather than up. Without the masses being empowered in the segments of health and education, there cannot be any increase in the productivity and employment at all. Employment can never be seen in isolation without the dynamics of empowerment added. A series of waves must be created through wider ranges of mass movements to make the politico-economic empowerment of the masses a reality.

The greatest strategy of empowerment of the rural poor in the villages is land reforms. The budget has increased the allotment in this segment from Rs 30 crore to Rs 70 crore this year. The overall allocation in agriculture has been doubled to Rs 100 crore. The state government shall step up the process of purchasing land from the open market and hand them over to small peasants at no cost at all. Upto 15 per cent premium is paid on the land prices to make the sellers find it attractively profitable to sell land to the state government.

Once the land is vested and then transferred, the government shall provide the ancillaries for agriculture and farming, with allocation made for creating a fund for setting up shelter for the poor peasants. There is already in existence a provident fund scheme run by the state Left Front government for the landless agricultural labourers. The state contribution has been doubled in this year’s budget in this head. The net of PF will be widened this year to bring in 1.5 million agricultural workers anew as beneficiaries.

To increase agricultural production from a growth rate of just fewer than 4 per cent to over 4.5 per cent, appropriate agricultural inputs in good measure will be made available to the cultivators. Irrigated land mass will be increased from the 70.5 per cent to 75 per cent of the cultivated and cultivable land plots. The national rural employment guarantee (NREGA) projects are continuously augmented. To help the animal resources department cope with the after effects of the bird flu (44 lakh million birds had to be culled), its allotment has been increased from Rs 23 crore to Rs 63 crore. The public distribution system is further strengthened despite non-cooperation of the union government.

With industrial development progressing apace, the budget emphasises the twin processes of rehabilitation-compensation and professional on-the-job training schemes for the land losers. An additional fund of Rs 100 crore is created for this purpose alone. With employment industries expected to exceed 3.5 lakh (again, in terms of direct employment), a budgetary allocation of Rs 71 crore has been earmarked. Around 90 per cent of the villages and townships have been brought under the electrification scheme and 85 per cent of the state is equipped with constant supply of potable water. The health infrastructure of the rural areas is undergoing farther expansion and upgradation.

In all the finance minister of the state Left Front government has placed a pro-poor, development oriented budget that carries a deficit of just Rs two crore, which is to be covered through taxing the financially able groups.