The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Bengal back at World Bank door after 5 years

Calcutta, June 10: Five years after spurning the World Bank’s offer of credit for roads and infrastructure development on purported ideological grounds, Bengal’s ruling communists seem to be heading for the bank for funds to implement projects in various sectors.

Senior officials said terms between Bengal and the bank had been finalised and a loan-cum-grant package of Rs 200 crore would soon be made available for the technical education segment.

About 30 per cent of the package — which is approximately Rs 60 crore — would be in grants.

“We will utilise the money to upgrade state-controlled and private engineering colleges in Bengal,” said higher education secretary Jawhar Sircar.

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is in talks with the bank for credit and grants for sectors like health, urban development, land and panchayat, the officials said.

Five years ago, the Left Front regime had stopped negotiating with the bank because it wanted the state government to allow it an insight into its financial performance, capacity to repay huge debts and resource management.

The Left went to town, politicising the bank’s insistence on compliance with disclosure norms.

The decision to refuse the offer was taken at a time when the international agency had already committed itself to provide Rs 701 crore to the health sector to develop secondary and rural health care.

“The World Bank-funded project — State Health Systems Development Project II —comes to an end this year and another Rs 1,200 crore will be provided by the Department for International Development of the UK for development of primary health care system and public health in Bengal,” said Prabhakar Chatterjee, the director of health services.

The CPM’s labour arm, Citu, said the World Bank was “not untouchable” and a loan could always be taken.

“But we have always asserted that there should not be any strings attached. We will not allow the World Bank to impose any conditions on us,” said state Citu secretary Kali Ghosh.

He said there was no harm in taking loans from the World Bank if it did not want to dictate terms to the government. “We will seek information from the government about the loans the World Bank will provide,” he added.

Officials in the secretariat said it was the state government’s policy not to accept any kind of financial assistance from funding agencies if there are conditions attached.

“For example, we will not cut down on our budget deficit or close down sick units according to their whims,” an official said.

Asked about the details of World Bank funding proposals for the state, finance secretary Samar Ghosh said it was not possible to say how many projects are being discussed with the international agency.

“Individual departments might be in the process of discussion. But I am not aware of any immediate project apart from the funds coming to the higher education department,” Ghosh said.

Email This Page