The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Asim opens DA purse before poll

Calcutta, June 12: The government today announced the release of two more instalments of dearness allowance for its employees, to be disbursed from July 1.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta told newspersons at Writers’ Buildings about 10 lakh people — government employees and teachers — will benefit from the decision. The payment of these additional instalments of DA will cost the exchequer Rs 180 crore, he added.

About three lakh retired state government employees and teachers will also benefit as they will receive pension at increased rates. “We will require Rs 50 crore to pay the DA to retired employees and teachers,” Dasgupta said.

However, the DA instalments announced today were supposed to be disbursed on January 1, 2001 and July 1 the same year. The government could not release the allowance earlier because of its acute financial crisis.

Asked whether the government’s financial health had improved, Dasgupta said he had discussed the payment of DA with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and was releasing it on the basis of their talks.

Addressing reporters at the Calcutta Press Club a few days ago, Bhattacharjee had said his government was finding it difficult to pay for the salaries and other benefits of its employees. He also hinted that the government could have to curtail some of the perquisites enjoyed by its employees because of the crunch.

Dasgupta’s announcement today stunned several circles. The minister claimed that a drive undertaken by the government a few years ago to reduce expenditure had worked well. “Apart from that, we had laid stress on increasing collections of various taxes to earn more revenue.

“For example, we have increased collection of sales tax by 17 per cent in the past few months. We are also planning to set up a team to concentrate on collections of various taxes to enable the government to cope with the financial crisis we are passing through at the moment,” he said.

Congress leader Manas Bhunia described Dasgupta’s move as “utter violation of the model code of conduct prescribed by the Election Commission”.

“Announcement of the DA is considered an economic benefit to government employees and Dasgupta could wait a few weeks before declaring this as several municipalities in Bengal will go to poll on June 22,” the Congress leader said.

Asked whether his decision to announce the DA before the municipal poll violated election norms, Dasgupta said: “No. I have consulted state election commissioner Ajoy Sinha before coming to you to announce the DA for our employees. Moreover, the DA that I have announced today had been lying pending since January 2001. We could not disburse it due to the financial crisis. Now we are paying it.”

The Trinamul Congress and the BJP steered clear of comment on the issue perceived to be “touchy” for the voters.

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