Hit the bottom
Sir — The editorial, “Own goal” (Nov 16), has unequivocally exposed the reasons behind the fiscal mess that the government of West Bengal is now in. The government is carrying a whopping debt burden. The gap between revenue and expenditure is increasing alarmingly, making the state almost bankrupt. This grim situation has not come into being overnight, but is the direct result of more than 33 years of the Left Front’s mismanagement. In all these years, there has been little or no fiscal discipline, nor has any thought been given to possible corrective measures.
The editorial rightly underlines the way in which the government has shamelessly tried to appease vote banks to stay in power. It has indiscriminately increased the salaries of teachers and state government employees, thus bringing the state to a point of no-return financially. The state government should have arrived at the idea of opening more liquor shops as a way of boosting excise earning at least 15 years ago. It is a pity that the party coming to power after next year’s polls will inherit a rotten economy, a dilapidated administrative structure and a collapsing healthcare system, in addition to a huge debt burden.
Rita Bose, Calcutta
Sir — The decision of the West Bengal government to allow the sale of rum from country liquor shops in an effort to augment its rapidly dwindling financial resources is unfortunate (“If you hit the bottle, state can drown its fiscal sorrows” Nov 16). In a welfare state, the government cannot encourage the spread of the drinking habit. There are various other ways to increase state revenue. Curtailing government expenditures and increasing the productivity of state government employees would certainly have been better options. Most of the state-run industries are in a bad shape and efforts could have been made to improve their performance. But such steps may have proved to be difficult for the government, which, therefore, has taken the easier way out.
It is true that drinking is becoming a common practice in our society. At the same time, the ill effects of drinking cannot be ignored. I am sure that the government is well aware of the social implications of allowing country liquor shops to sell rum.
Debasish Chatterjee, Calcutta
Sir — It is often said that one of the main reasons behind the state government’s present miserable financial condition is the ever-increasing salaries of its employees. But I would like to point out here that government employees constitute just a fraction of the entire population of the state. Neither the government nor the public can expect quality service from this skeletal staff if the financial requirements of state employees are not addressed properly. Hence it cannot be declared with certainty that the present parlous state of the government is primarily due to the high salaries of its employees.
The debt burden of the state is increasing primarily because of two errant decisions taken by the government. The first of these is the drastic rise in the payscale of school and college teachers, and in that of panchayat and municipal employees. The government had wrongly decided to treat them on a par with state employees. They are now a burden on the state exchequer. Second, certain populist measures adopted by the government, like decreasing land revenue or providing free electricity to households below the poverty line, are adding fuel to fire. Politicians should consider these points when they analyse the reasons behind the pathetic financial condition of the state.
Chhanda Mukherjee, Chandernagore, Hooghly
Sir — The indifference of governments to the legal provisions under the fiscal responsibility act, accompanied by longstanding policy bottlenecks and vote-bank politics, has landed more than one Indian state in a financial mess. Proper financial planning by any government holds so much instrumental value that any sort of complacency, imprudence or indiscipline in this regard is simply unacceptable. However, the growing indebtedness of West Bengal is not the making of only the present finance minister. It is symptomatic of a political culture that is making the achievement of macro-economic stability a Herculean task. The government needs to take decisions guided more by the realities of the 21st century than by the dated ideas of the 1970s.
Sajjan Singh, Calcutta