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If only health were wealth
- minister in shape, finance is not

Calcutta, Oct. 22: Bengal may be in the red — making the New Left blush before and after the bonus-slashed puja — but finance minister Asim Dasgupta is doing his best to stay in the pink of health.

Dasgupta has become a high-profile addition to the ranks of Salt Lake’s fitness-conscious who never miss their evening walk.

The walks — along with his personal-use Ambassador, the pilot car and one security guard trotting behind, the last making sure that nothing comes in the way of the minister’s promenade — have become regular enough for Bidhannagar police to take auto-rickshaws off the route and make everyone sit up and take notice.

It’s not a come-rain-or-high-wind scenario for the finance minister, whose department proposed the slash in government employees’ bonus this puja and a freeze on their dearness allowance arrears. Nevertheless, he has made it a point to get down from his government-allotted vehicle after it enters the auto-free zone in Salt Lake and walk a part of the distance to his residence every evening.

In doing so, Dasgupta has preceded his ministerial colleagues — from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee — to the concept of a healthy mind in a healthy body. None of his Salt Lake minister-neighbours — there are quite a few like sports minister Subhas Chakraborty, forest minister Jogesh Barman, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee and higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty — takes advantage of the township’s relatively unclogged roads or numerous parks for the constitutionals, say family members.

Dasgupta does not claim to be a fitness fanatic but insists that the walk has become a “habit” and “missing even an evening tells” on his “mind and body”.

For instance, Monday was a busy day. There was a meeting with Bhattacharjee, who had to be briefed about the chief ministers’ meet in Delhi, convened to discuss the emergent finance scenario. It was followed by a media briefing and an audience with Behala residents duped by a postal “agent”, besides the routine file-pushing grind.

Dasgupta was late by a few minutes for his evening walk, according to Salt Lake residents now used to the sight of the minister walking a part of the way home, but he was there. Getting down from his car (WB-02/G-5367) in front of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) gate, he waited for the security official — who got down from the pilot car (WB-02/J-6936) — to join him.

Explaining that the long hours of sitting in office “necessitated” the every-evening “exercise”, Dasgupta maintained the slightly brisk walk till the crossing where the road turned left towards the Salt Lake stadium. He stopped there and got into his Ambassador, which, like the pilot car and the security official, had stopped on cue.

“I have taken to doing this because of health reasons,” the finance minister, whose department according to critics is not in the best of health, said before getting into his car. The security official was busy chasing away a state-run bus (route S-23) that had braked a few metres from the scheduled stop to pick up a passenger.

Other Salt Lake evening-walkers — and finance minister-watchers, like the SAI security personnel — say they are no longer surprised by such scenes. “The minister, on the surface, doesn’t cause too much of a problem for others — except auto-rickshaws — but the over-zealous securitymen are sometimes a bit of a bother,” said a resident.

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