Purulia, Feb. 5: The notification that the zilla parishad sabhadipati in Purulia district after this year’s panchayat elections, scheduled for May, will be a woman has been welcomed by one and all, except perhaps the incumbent himself.
The state election commissioner’s gazette notification, announcing the six districts where the post will be reserved for women, ends the 20-year reign of the colourful and controversial comrade, Swapan Banerjee. This is the first time since the Left Front came to power in 1977 that the zilla parishad chair will be held by a woman.
“It was inevitable, it has happened by rotation,” was Banerjee’s immediate reaction. He has been steering the zilla parishad since its creation in 1978, with just a five-year break in 1993 when Rabindranath Kar, another party stalwart in the district, took over.
But the man from Adra in the Raghunathpur-Kashipur region of the district had managed to be in the good books of the party leaders at Alimuddin Street, especially present Front chairman Biman Bose and health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, who oversees the party’s Purulia affairs. He came back with a bang after the last panchayat polls in 1998.
Responsible for the implementation of many a development scheme and project in the district, the sabhadipati, however, has not seen eye-to-eye with key persons in the district administration with whom his office is supposed to work in tandem.
“It is no secret that Banerjee’s autocratic rule has led him to be at loggerheads with the district magistrate,” said K.P. Singh Deo, president of the district Trinamul Congress. The party has slammed the absence of any audit of the zilla parishad and the slow or total lack of implementation of various state and Central government schemes.
“Anyone other than Swapan Banerjee as sabhadipati will be an improvement for the district,” said Nepal Mahato, Congress legislator from the Joypur region in northwest Purulia. “This backward district should have progressed a lot more in these 25 years,” he said. Except for Banerjee’s home region of Kashipur, “no block had had the desired level of development”, he added.
According to Mahato, Kar had a better performance report. “During his five-year tenure, files did not get stuck and unutilised funds did not have to be returned.” As much as 42 per cent funds for irrigation works and 28 per cent for programmes like the Indira Awas Yojana have had to be refunded under Banerjee, he said.