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Co-operative ordinance coup

Calcutta, Feb. 4: The Bengal government today promulgated an ordinance disbanding the elected boards in 2,000-odd co-operative societies that will be headed by government-appointed special officers till fresh polls.

The West Bengal Co-operative Societies (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013, supersedes a Calcutta High Court order that had scrapped the state government’s earlier efforts to prune the tenure of the boards from five to three years.

“With special officers at the helm of these bodies, the government will virtually control the societies till the elections…” a senior official said.

From providing loans to farmers and technical knowhow to fisherfolk, the societies act as the backbone of the rural economy. Bengal has around 5,000 co-operative societies for fishermen, milkmen, farmers and artisans.

As penetration of scheduled commercial banks remains low in the panchayat belt, the co-operatives bridge the demand-supply gap for loans and technical assistance. The state has 3,351 gram panchayats and each panchayat has at least one such society.

“The timing of the ordinance is significant as the state is headed towards rural polls in which the boards of the co-operative societies are expected to play a critical role because of their clout in villages. As 90 per cent of the disbanded boards were under Left control, it is clear that the ordinance has been brought with a political motive,” said the official.

The ordinance had been kept under wraps till this evening. State co-operative minister H.A. Safwi was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.

Sources said that the government had been clearing the decks for the ordinance for some time since its attempt to bring an amendment drew a blank following a legal challenge in the high court. The court had termed the amendment, which sought to reduce the tenure from five to three years, “invalid, unconstitutional and ultra vires”.

The Left Front government had repealed the West Bengal Co-operative Act of 1983 in January 2011 and brought in the West Bengal Co-operative Societies Act, 2010. The change was in accordance with the provisions of a 2006 model act by the Centre, through which the terms of elected bodies were extended from three to five years.

Between February and October 2012, the new government held elections in 1,000-odd societies — 80 per cent of which clocked Trinamul victories.

“The ordinance (with retrospective effect) has validated these elections but the remaining 2,000 boards will have to face elections in six months. The government-appointed special officers will run the show till the elections are held,” an official said.


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