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Mitra to attend meet with Jaitley

Calcutta, June 6: Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra will attend a pre-budget meeting convened by his central counterpart Arun Jaitley on June 9 in Delhi, the move indicating that the Mamata Banerjee government will engage with the Narendra Modi government despite initial reservations.

Senior officials at Nabanna said an invitation from the Union finance ministry to attend the meeting reached the new state secretariat a couple of days ago.

The states’ feedback will be sought at the meeting before the Union budget is prepared. Jaitley is likely to table the budget in the first week of July. The practice of meeting state finance ministers before the budget had been started by Jaitley’s predecessor P. Chidambaram.

“The Bengal government today confirmed the participation of Mitra and finance secretary H.K. Dwivedi following a nod from the chief minister,” a senior state government official said.

Mamata has so far avoided establishing any direct contact with Prime Minister Modi. She did not attend his swearing-in despite being invited. She apparently had reservations about sending her ministers to Delhi to hold meetings with the BJP-led government, asking departmental secretaries instead to get in touch with top officials of various Union ministries to ensure smooth flow of funds.

“It appears that she was in a dilemma over whether to directly interact with the BJP-led government, keeping her minority vote bank in mind. But now, she has realised that the state’s ministers need to go to Delhi,” another official said.

Officials said the change in stand was influenced by the efforts being made by the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Odisha, Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik, to develop a working relationship with the Centre.

According to the officials, finance and industries minister Mitra is likely to stress on securing pending funds from the Centre at the meeting.

“We did not receive around Rs 7,000 crore from the Centre under different heads in the last financial year. Our target will be to ensure the funds are released this year,” an official said.

Mitra is unlikely to raise the demand for a three-year moratorium on past loans, which Trinamul has been seeking since coming to power, the officials said. “The pre-budget meeting is not the place to raise such an issue. It can be discussed in a one-to-one meeting with the Union finance minister,” the official said.

It is not clear whether Mitra has sought an appointment with Jaitley for such a session.

The Nabanna official said that although the finance secretary would return to Calcutta soon after the meeting, Mitra would stay back.