Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee took potshots at each other from two stages in north Bengal on Tuesday. Moments after a ride on a potholed path, Rahul criticised the Mamata government at a Congress workers’ meeting in Jalpaiguri for the sorry condition of roads in Bengal, “non-utilisation of central funds” and the problems being faced by tea workers. Hours after the Congress vice-president’s rally in Malbazar’s Zurantee Tea Estate, the chief minister launched into a word-by-word rebuttal of what Rahul said. Mamata was addressing a workers’ meeting in Naxalbari, Darjeeling.
| Rahul at the workers’ meeting at Zurantee Tea Estate.
Picture by Biplab Basak
|Mamata Banerjee speaks at the workers’ meeting in Naxalbari, Darjeeling, on Tuesday.
Picture by Kundan Yolmo
|The cratered 5km road Rahul Gandhi took to reach Zurantee Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri from Metelli on Tuesday. Picture by Biplab Basak
RAHUL: The central government sends more funds to the Bengal government for improvement of roads, health care and education than what it gives to any other state. Unfortunately, this is the road (the 5km potholed stretch of the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad-constructed road on which he travelled from Metelli to Zurantee) the Bengal government provides to the people. A journey that should not have taken more than two minutes, took 15 minutes. We don’t know why central funds are not being utilised to repair roads.
MAMATA: We have developed all the state highways. The national highways are in need of repairs. They are not under the state government. Had they been under the state government, I would have got the work done in one day. They (Centre) don’t want to repair the national highways so that the Trinamul government gets a bad name.
NON-UTILISATION OF FUNDS
RAHUL: Delhi gives crores to Calcutta for development work. However, it does not reach you. This money does not belong to any minister or MLA, it is your money. Bengal has given a lot to the country but unfortunately, the state has not made much progress.
MAMATA: They say they have given lots of money. I don’t want to take their names since they don’t deserve it. Do they have any idea how the system works, how funds are provided, under which head, how they are spent? It is being said we don’t know how to spend the money. The Centre collects around Rs 40,000 crore in taxes from Bengal and gives back only Rs 8 crore to Rs 10 crore for education, 100-day work, etc. They have taken away Rs 87,283 crore. We have not received any funds for agriculture and irrigation. We have not got money under BRGF and JNNURM either. Instead, they are saying big things. What they have done is gaddari with Bengal.
GOVERNMENTS IN BENGAL
RAHUL: You have removed the communists from the state. The mandate raised our hopes that the new government would work for the people. But the Trinamul Congress government is repeating what the party against which it fought did in its 34-year rule. There is only one government that can change the situation and that is the Congress government at the Centre.
MAMATA: They are saying Bengal has not done anything. We have spent Rs 450 crore on water supply. We have given 73,000 scholarships to students from the minority community and reserved 17 per cent seats (in education and government jobs) for minorities belonging to Other Backward Classes. Have they given even 1 per cent? We have provided funds for development of tourist lodges, orchards and flood prevention. Which area have we left untouched? Schools, colleges, separate secretariat for north Bengal....
RAHUL: “No comment,” when asked by The Telegraph about the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s statehood demand.
MAMATA: We have brought peace to Darjeeling. They have come to disrupt peace here. There are some leaders, I don’t want to name them, who are going to Delhi. Had they (an apparent reference to the Morcha) come to us, we would have got the work done. The administration (in GTA in Darjeeling) is running in the name of Gorkhaland, though the name was decided before we came to power. What more do they want? We have given them money but they can’t spend it.
TEA GARDEN WORKERS
RAHUL: We want to work out schemes for tea garden workers.
MAMATA: There are five (closed) tea gardens here (in north Bengal). We are providing subsidised rice and atta to the workers and their families. Around 15,000 families are benefiting. Our government raised the wages of tea gardens workers.
Reporting by Arnab Ganguly & Avijit sinha