Calcutta, March 11: The Mamata Banerjee government today announced an unemployment allowance, expanding its list of state doles despite bleeding coffers.
In his budget speech this afternoon, finance minister Amit Mitra announced the unemployment dole — named Yuba Utsaha Prakalpa — of Rs 1,500 a month for nearly 1 lakh candidates registered with the government’s employment bank.
Although Mitra did not mention how the government planned to rustle up the amount, which will cost the treasury around Rs 180 crore in the next fiscal, finance department sources said the payment could be made from the labour department’s plan head.
“Although recurring expenses like this ought to come under the non-plan head, the government has been providing funds for such schemes under grants-in-aid of the plan head,” a source said.
The state’s total plan outlay is Rs 26,674 crore, according to this year’s budget.
Mitra blamed both the erstwhile Left government and the Centre for the “gravest crisis” and the “greater financial hardship” the unemployed in the state were facing. The unemployment rate in Bengal was 7.8 per cent last July.
“The honourable chief minister, keeping in mind the struggle for survival and frustration of these unemployed youths, had last year created an employment bank to support them in their efforts to find employment,” Mitra told the House.
“Keeping her deep concern in mind, I am happy to announce a new scheme called Yuba Utsaha Prakalpa to extend a small financial support to the unemployed youths,” he added.
The allowance will be provided to unemployed people between 18 and 45 who have passed at least Class VIII and are registered with the employment bank. Finance department sources said there were around 94,000 such candidates and the number could double by the end of the next fiscal.
If the beneficiary base is increased, the dole bill could swell to over Rs 270 crore in the 2014-15 fiscal.
“For now, we will offer the dole to not more than 1 lakh candidates. The chief minister plans to increase the number of beneficiaries to 1.5 lakh in the next budget. By March 31, 2014, the total number of registered candidates should grow to around 2 lakh,” a finance department official said.
The employment bank is an online portal launched by the labour department on July 26 last year.
According to Mitra, an unemployed beneficiary would stop getting the dole once he gets a job. As he did not mention how the government planned to track the beneficiaries’ employment status, a section of officials in the finance department said they feared many could conceal job appointments to continue receiving the dole.
“It would be difficult to continuously assess the employment status of a lakh, or more, beneficiaries. There could be many who would not update the database after getting jobs,” a finance department official said.
“The scheme had to be incorporated at the chief minister’s behest without much planning. The process of making the system foolproof so that those no longer eligible for the allowance do not keep receiving it is a difficult one. We will have to work on it,” he added.
Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra said the move was “politically motivated”, which “would only benefit supporters of the ruling party”.