Siliguri, March 11: Finance minister Amit Mitra has set aside Rs 240 crore for the North Bengal Development Council for the next fiscal and increased the allocation for the tourism industry by Rs 30 crore.
Mitra also extended the waiver of cess to be paid by tea planters under two heads — rural employment and education — for one more year. Tea and tourism are the backbone of the region’s economy.
The allocation for the council is higher by Rs 40 crore, compared to the amount earmarked for the body last year. In his budget speech, Mitra rattled off the projects being undertaken by the council.
“Around 300 schemes out of the 361 incomplete Uttarbanga Unnayan Parshad schemes have since been completed. The construction of chief minister’s branch secretariat at Dabgram in Jalpaiguri has been started and is likely to be completed within January 2014. The construction of a women’s college at Dhupguri, Hindi College at Banarhat and colleges at Ghokshadanga, Nishiganj, Chopra, Manikchak and Kumarganj has been initiated.
The construction of bridges is at six locations. The work for the construction of a stadium in Jalpaiguri will be completed within June 2014. An alternate (alternative) road from Siliguri to Jalpaiguri is under construction.”
The minister said the tourism department would get Rs 120 crore for the next financial year, up by Rs 30 crore compared to last year’s allocation. He also talked about the mega tourism project planned at Gazoldoba, 25 km from Siliguri, where the Teesta Barrage is located.
“Gajaldoba Project in the Dooars as a case in point, will alone attract Rs 1,500 crore of investment in phase-I. It will become a signature project for our state,” Mitra said.
Like tourism, tea is also a major source of income and employment generation in north Bengal and Mitra didn’t forget it. He announced the extension of a waiver of the rural employment cess payable under West Bengal Rural Employment and Production Act, 1976, and the education cess payable under West Bengal Primary Education Act, 1973, by tea estates.
“We hope that this relief will help in rejuvenating the tea industry and the owners will pass on some of these benefits voluntarily to the tea garden workers. We will keep an eye on the latter this year,” said the minister.
Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the president of Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations, welcomed the extension of the waiver.
“Every big and small tea planter had to pay both the cess, which together amounted to 12 paisa per kg of green tea. It was waived for the current fiscal and was supposed to end on March 31. The finance minister has extended the relief for another financial year. We welcome the decision,” said Chakraborty.
The minister also said the government would build two film and entertainment cities, one of which would come up in Siliguri.
Work order for construction of phase-II of the IT hub in Siliguri has also been issued, he said.