Asim Dasgupta at the news conference on Tuesday. Picture by Sanjay Ghosh
Calcutta, March 12: Former Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta today raised questions about the growth numbers Amit Mitra rolled out during his budget proposals yesterday, drilling holes in the claim of higher growth trajectory achieved under the Mamata Banerjee government.
Quoting numbers from the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics, Mitra had said the Bengal economy grew by 7.6 per cent (advance estimate) in 2012-13, with agriculture, industry and service sectors clocking 2.56 per cent, 6.24 per cent and 9.48 per cent, respectively.
“Your beloved Bengal is on the march,” Mitra had said, sporting a wide grin.
At a news conference at the CPM state secretariat today, Mitra’s predecessor — and a senior in the economics department in the erstwhile Presidency College — Dasgupta chuckled, as he referred to a slew of figures tucked in the budget publications, while casting doubts on Mitra’s math.
The mainstay in Dasgupta’s argument was how industry could grow by 6.24 per cent in 2012-13 while the number of industrial projects and the investment “catalysed” actually shrank in Bengal in 2012.
Economic Review 2012-13 revealed that 12 projects with investment of Rs 312.24 crore came up in 2012, while the corresponding numbers were much higher in other years.
“I don’t know the basis behind the claim of such high growth in industry while the reality says something else,” Dasgupta said.
As lower growth in the organised sector would lead to similar or even lower growth in the unorganised sector, the possibility of the unorganised sector compensating for the loss is ruled out, he added.
Mitra’s claim of around 2.6 per cent growth in agriculture also came under Dasgupta’s scrutiny.
“The details of the area under boro cultivation are not with the government…. Then how can they claim about a 2.6 per cent growth?” he asked.
Mitra, who made history of sorts yesterday by not defending his proposals at a news conference after the budget, refused to make any statement today when reporters approached him in the Assembly this afternoon.
Around the same time, Dasgupta, at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street, around 2km away, challenged Mitra’s claim of 7.6 per cent growth in gross state domestic product — the total value of goods and services produced in a state in a year — in the current financial year.
Mitra’s claim of over 10 lakh new jobs was also contested during Dasgupta’s news conference as he cited the statistical appendix of the Economic Review to highlight that the number of central and state government employees shrank by 1,000 and 1,500, respectively, in 2012. “The claim regarding new employment generation has to be properly explained,” he said.
Dasgupta sought explanations from Mitra on what explained the 30 per cent rise in the state’s revenues when the growth in the two most important components — value added tax and sales tax — had grown only by 18.5 per cent.
“The sudden rise in land revenues to the tune of over Rs 1,000 crore also needs to be explained properly as a majority of this has come from coal cess earned by the state,” Dasgupta said.
Besides tossing up questions for Mitra to address, the former finance minister accused him of not mentioning how Bengal’s balance sheet was benefiting from a steady funds flow from Delhi.
The fact that the budget speech of Mitra — who has always accused the Left Front government of borrowing beyond its means — was silent about the new government’s borrowing spree, which would push up accumulated debt to Rs 2.47 lakh crore, also came under attack.