The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cash crunch stalls DA parity with Delhi

Calcutta, Dec. 11: The cash-strapped Bengal government today conceded it was in no position to pay dearness allowance to employees at the rate given by the Centre.

Amid jeers from the Opposition, finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the state government would continue to pay the allowance at the current rate of 41 per cent against the 52 per cent granted by the Centre. “We will be required to make the DA payment at the present rate till we have succeeded in raising our revenue,” Dasgupta said, smothering hopes of an 11 per cent increase for government employees.

Dasgupta, who has come under repeated attack in the Assembly because of Bengal’s alarming fiscal situation, said the state cannot shoulder any extra burden. Substantial raises in salaries and dearness allowances of a huge army of employees following the Fourth Pay Commission’s recommendations had pushed the state into a debt trap, he added.

In reply to a question from Trinamul legislator Kashinath Mishra, Dasgupta said the government would require Rs 720 crore to meet the current deficit. Austerity measures and efficient tax collection would enable the government to collect an additional Rs 1,000 crore in the remaining months of the current financial year, he claimed.

Unlike most other states, the Bengal government has to shoulder an additional liability. It has to provide DA and bonus to teachers and employees of educational institutions, municipalities and panchayats apart from the ones directly engaged by the government. “Barring Bengal and Kerala, all other states provide DA only to employees working in the government departments,” Dasgupta said.

Dasgupta’s words were effectively an acknowledgement of the charge that the government’s populist measures, like raising the salary bill, have been mostly responsible for pushing the state into financial black hole. Besides, poor realisation of taxes and faltering investment in small savings during the past two years were also responsible for the crisis, he said.

The finance minister came under repeated attack from the Congress, Trinamul and the SUCI whose members blamed the government for raising the salary bill and the bonus without realising that it would lead to bankruptcy. “You in the Left Front raised the bonus and salaries of its employees for cheap political gains,” charged Trinamul MLA Saugata Ray.

Ray, who held Dasgupta “solely responsible” for the mess, said the government was trying to pass the blame on to the Centre though the Union government had in no way influenced it into paying high salaries or bonus to employees or teachers. “Why blame the Centre'” Ray asked. “They did not ask you to pay the DA or bonus at their rate.”

The Opposition legislators also sought an explanation on why there was no indication of the crisis in the last budget. “How come you did not give us any indication about the crisis six months ago'” Trinamul’s Pankaj Banerjee said.

“You could have taken certain precautions and discussed the problem with us in the last two sessions of the House,” said Congress leader Abdul Mannan.

“It is surprising that you chose to wake up late to the problem only in October when it was time to pay bonus to employees. You should have thought twice before recklessly increasing the payouts.”

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