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Asim gives Amit a chance to grin

Calcutta, Aug. 26: Finance minister Amit Mitra today found an unlikely ally in the debate with his central counterpart Arun Jaitley over Bengal’s financial situation — Asim Dasgupta.

Dasgupta, Mitra’s predecessor and the state’s longest-serving finance minister, rolled out a set of numbers to take on Jaitley.

“How can Arun Jaitley talk about the Rs 1.93 lakh crore debt we had as on March 31, 2011, after which we (Left government) left? He should look at what his party did while running the NDA government between 1999 and 2004,” Dasgupta said at a news conference in Alimuddin Street.

According to him, when the BJP government took over the reins of the country in 1999, the Centre’s debt was around Rs 11 lakh crore, which shot up to Rs 18 lakh crore at the time of its exit.

Speaking at a BJP meeting in Kankurgachhi on Sunday, Jaitley had said the economic situation in Bengal was so bad that it had to spend most of its earnings from taxes in repaying loans. “It is because most of the governments here have followed such a policy. What is the use of such populism when you can’t run the state?” Jaitley had said.

Although Mitra has so far restricted himself to issuing a sedate rebuttal of Jaitley’s comments — unlike his acerbic attack on Ratan Tata — Dasgupta’s observations might have armed his successor for a war of words with the BJP leader.

In an article uploaded on the Trinamul website today, Mitra was quoted as saying Bengal “is one of the best-managed states in fiscal matters in the recent years”.

Dasgupta today explained the helplessness of the Bengal government and blamed central policies for the state’s financial woes. Following the Left’s tradition, which used to accuse the Centre of “depriving” Bengal, the Trinamul government has often blamed Delhi for its financial duress. At a meeting with Jaitley during his Calcutta visit, the state government gave him a letter detailing how much money it was yet to receive from the Centre.

Dasgupta said today: “Arun Jaitley made certain comments in Calcutta regarding the poor fiscal condition of the state during the Left Front’s tenure. But he should know that policies adopted by the Centre, particularly those relating to small savings and central assistance, had contributed to the accumulation of the debt of Rs 1.93 lakh crore as on March 31, 2011.”

“The Union finance minister should have made an assessment of the state’s finances before blaming the Bengal government,” Dasgupta added, making it clear that he was referring only to the Left regime.

Elaborating on the reasons behind the piling of the debt, Dasgupta said the largest contributor was the loan the Bengal government had to take on account of small savings. He put the figure at Rs 79,000 crore. The Centre offers 80 per cent of the net small savings deposits (collections minus withdrawals in a given year) in post offices as loans to states.

According to Dasgupta, “high” interest rates of around 11.5 per cent on small savings loans and around 9 per cent on central loans raised the cost of debt servicing.