Calcutta, July 29: The Mamata Banerjee government is giving finishing touches to a proposal to split at least five populous districts of Bengal to make their administration more manageable.
Sources said the proposal involves the division of North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, West Midnapore, Burdwan and Jalpaiguri. The population in each of these districts ranges from 59 lakh to 1 crore, barring that in Jalpaiguri.
If the next cabinet meeting scheduled on August 3 clears the plan, the number of districts in the state will go up from 19 to 24.
The decision is likely to receive sanction by the cabinet on August 3 and the chief minister wants to make the announcement that evening, said a Writers Buildings source.
Although the division of Hooghly is also being considered, a decision on the district has not been taken yet.
If approved by the cabinet, the proposal will be sent to the Union home ministry for statutory sanction. The process is likely to take between six months and a year for completion.
The last time the number of districts went up was in 2002, when Midnapore gave way to the East and West twins. In 1987, 24-Parganas had been divided, and four years later, Dinajpur became the North and South siblings.
The Trinamul Congress, then the principal Opposition party, had opposed the plan to divide Midnapore, citing the importance of regional integrity when the process began in 2001.
We are now in administration and we have to take some tough decisions to deliver development, said a minister in Mamatas cabinet.
The areas that will be separated from the existing districts have been earmarked.
We will separate the Alipurduar subdivision from Jalpaiguri, the Barrackpore and Bidhannagar subdivisions from North 24-Parganas, the Diamond Harbour subdivision from South 24-Parganas, the Jhargram police district and the Jungle Mahal areas from West Midnapore and the Asansol and Durgapur subdivisions from Burdwan, the source said.
If Hooghly is divided, the industrial belt of Serampore and Sadar subdivisions will be taken out to form the new district, he added.
The number of blocks in Bengal is expected to go up by around 100 from the current 341 and that of subdivisions is likely to rise by 10 to 12.
Administrative buildings have to be set up in the new districts and superintendents of police and district magistrates have to be appointed.
They are among the most populous districts in the state and are difficult to administer. The division would help the administration reach the people and assist in providing better healthcare and educational facilities. Splitting them into smaller districts makes administrative common sense, an official said.
Bengal at present ranks 17th among the 28 states on district count. Less populous states like Bihar (38 districts), Orissa (30), Jharkhand (24) and Andhra Pradesh (23) have more districts.
According to a member of Mamatas cabinet, more districts will also help get more central aid. At the national level, the number of districts a state has matters, more often than it should, when decisions on financial support are considered. Its more psychological than practical but the number does make a difference, said the minister.
That is one of the reasons why the chief minister wants to split the districts, he added.
The idea had first come up three years ago. The administrative reforms committee —headed by then chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb — had examined the possibility and submitted detailed proposals, identifying the same areas for division in December 2008.
A senior official said the Left Front government had considered implementing the proposals eventually. But the debacle in the Lok Sabha polls of 2009 discouraged the government from taking such a big initiative.
The names of the new districts are yet to be finalised. The district that will be carved out of Jalpaiguri is likely to be called Alipurduar.
Chief secretary Samar Ghosh, who is also brainstorming to find a new name for the state, will be asked to come up with suggestions on the names of the other new districts, the source said.
Provisional data of Census 2011 show that the five districts have recorded a population growth of 12-18 per cent in 10 years. North 24-Parganas, with a headcount of over 1 crore, and South 24-Parganas, with 81.53 lakhs, are the most populous districts in Bengal. West Midnapore has a population of 59.43 lakhs, Burdwan has 77.23 lakhs and Jalpaiguri 38.70 lakhs.
Except Jalpaiguri, all of them are more populous than Calcutta that has over 44 lakh people.