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Mitra resists DA temptations

Calcutta, Feb. 17: The additional amount the Bengal government has earmarked for salaries and pensions next year does not offer much room for manoeuvre on dearness allowances, according to officials.

Finance minister Amit Mitra has set aside an additional Rs 4,501 crore for salaries and pensions. The amount is higher than last year but not much may be left after an incremental requirement is met.

Last year, the total outgo under the salary and pension head was Rs 42,692 crore and the estimated figure under the head has been projected at Rs 47,193 crore in the 2014-15 financial year.

“With this amount, the state government cannot release much DA in the next financial year as the state government has to give 3 per cent mandatory increment in salary for employees in July…. A major portion of the hike that has been shown under the salary head would be spent to meet the mandatory increment,” said an official.

This suggests Mitra has not used the budget to go out of his way to please over 7 lakh employees of the state government, state-aided institutions like schools, municipalities and panchayats.

Government employees in Bengal are now getting dearness allowance of 58 per cent of the basic pay while central government employees are being given 100 per cent DA. The state government employees are running 42 per cent behind their counterparts in the central government.

Recently, Mitra had said that the state was not bound to match the Centre’s DA — which means the state does not accept the employees’ stand that 42 per cent dues are pending. The employees have been claiming that most state governments try to ensure parity with the central allowance.

The Centre announces two instalments of DA every year but in Bengal, only one instalment is being announced over the past four years, the officials said.

“When the Left Front government was ousted in May 2011, there were dues of 12 per cent DA…. The gap has now reached 42 per cent,” said an official.

A finance department official said every 1 per cent rise in the dearness allowance costs nearly Rs 200 crore a year to the state exchequer.

“Now you can calculate that there is not enough money in the projected expenditure to give DA to the employees…. It may happen that the state can announce a 5 to 6 per cent DA later but it depends on the situation,” the official added.

The government had announced 6 per cent DA for the employees from January this year, though there was no such financial provision in last year’s budget.

“There was no such plan to give DA in this financial year… But as several employee unions had launched agitation, the chief minister declared 6 per cent DA from January,” said an official.

Several unions of government employees expressed disappointment today.

The unions said the employees were hoping that the state government would release some of the “due instalments”, considering the spiralling prices of essential commodities.

“We are 42 per cent behind the central government employees…. The government could have released at least some of the due instalments as prices of all commodities have gone up,” said an employee of the finance department.

The CPM backed employees’ umbrella organisation, the Coordination Committee, said it was not surprised and it would launch an agitation.

“We knew the chief minister will spend on the film stars, so we are not surprised…. We will launch an agitation to let the government know that the employees are really suffering,” said Manoj Guha, secretary of the Coordination Committee.