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Mitra Delhi trip to meet PC

Calcutta, Sept. 3: State finance minister Amit Mitra will meet Union finance minister P. Chidambaram in Delhi on Thursday and Friday to discuss the finances of debt-stressed Bengal.

The state government does not seem to expect much from the meeting, Mitra called it “part of a routine”.

“Yes, I will be in Delhi, meeting the Union finance minister on September 6 and 7. But we are not really hoping for a breakthrough this time,” Mitra said this afternoon.

“There have been at least ten such meetings, if you include the number of times the chief minister or I have met the Prime Minister and the erstwhile finance minister (President Pranab Mukherjee) in a little over a year. We are yet to see anything concrete,” he said.

This week’s meeting is in line with what chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced in the capital on August 23 after her meeting with Chidambaram on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, insurance, pension and civil aviation.

After the meeting, Mamata had said the meeting had nothing to do with a financial package for Bengal and said she would send Mitra to meet Chidambaram to discuss the state’s financial situation.

“The Parliament is in session. The meetings have to be scheduled according to his (Chidambaram’s) convenience. The timings (of the meetings) are yet to be finalised. But they will take place on September 6 and 7,” Mitra said at Writers’ Buildings.

According to Union finance ministry officials, Bengal was earlier offered a package of Rs 16,000 crore to be paid in four tranches over three years. The package was to have been in the form of grants for various projects, with most of the money going to extremely backward and border districts.

The Centre had planned to come up with similar schemes for Punjab and Kerala, which have accumulated debts of Rs 77,585 crore and Rs 11,000 crore, respectively.

Bengal’s debt burden is Rs 2.03 lakh crore, a large part of which, the present government says, is because of the previous Left regime.

“What this government wants is a moratorium on interest payouts for three to four years. This will mean a write-off of nearly Rs 20, 000 crore annually by the Centre. The Centre is wary because if it somehow manages to meet the demand, it will set a precedent and pave the way for many more such demands for similar treatment by other states,” said a source at Writers’ Buildings this evening.

Asked if the state was going to push further for the moratorium or settle for the package, Mitra said: “You know well what our main demand is, what we have been asking for since we came to power in the context of the debt burden, which is not our fault. Let’s see.”