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CM in poverty confession
- Buddha admits pockets of hunger, lists development plans

Calcutta, June 14: Poverty, hunger and malnutrition have always tormented a substantial section of the state’s population, of which Amlashol’s residents are a small fraction, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today.

“Why only Amlashol' Close to 20 per cent of Calcutta’s population is below the poverty line and suffers from hunger and malnutrition,” the chief minister said at Writers’ Buildings.

The government had never claimed that all of the state’s population was prosperous, he said. And added in the same breath that the Left Front dispensation had “lifted about half the Bengal population above poverty level in the past 20 years”.

Bracketing West Midnapore with the Sunderbans and pockets of north Bengal as the most backward and poor areas, the chief minister said he had received reports about the cause of the five deaths at Amlashol, but refused to divulge them.

“There is no use elaborating on what these people died of, especially since there is no guarantee that such deaths will not be repeated,” he said.

Listing a slew of projects that were being undertaken or are in the pipeline, Bhattacharjee said: “We know our grey areas just as we know those in which we have succeeded. In land reforms, foodgrain production and panchayats, Bengal is unparalleled in the country.”

The Planning Commission, which had earlier sanctioned special funds for backward districts like Purulia and Jalpaiguri, has now allotted Rs 45 crore each for West Midnapore and South 24-Parganas.

“In a couple of days, we are expecting funds for similar projects in Bankura and the Dinajpurs,” Bhattacharjee said.

Planning and development minister Nirupam Sen has been asked to allot the majority of the funds for West Midnapore to backward areas like Belpahari.

After all these years, Belpahari has only one primary health centre. Bhattacharjee conceded that mobile medical vans could not reach all areas. “People in this area suffer primarily from ailments of the eye and skin. Those having land are still better off, but the Sabars and Lodhas have nothing. The better part of the money will be used to create improved healthcare services in the area,” the chief minister said. Bhattacharjee expects these backward areas to be electrified using non-conventional sources of energy.

A Rs 20-crore UNDP-funded pilot project is being run in the Sunderbans to upgrade agriculture and pisciculture facilities. “We might get another ADB project depending on this one’s success,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee also claimed that the Left government had tried to improve infrastructure in backward areas.

“Go to Bandwan in Purulia. That is one of the most backward areas in the state. When the Left Front came to power, it did not have a single metalled road. They say Hyderabad is shining. When I went to Hyderabad, I found it was more developed than Calcutta. But 106 km from the city, I found famine-struck villages,” the chief minister said.

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