Eye on shorter list, Bengal for fresh BPL survey

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By PRANESH SARKAR
  • Published 25.01.12
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Jairam Ramesh (top) and Subrata Mukherjee

Calcutta, Jan. 24: The cash-strapped Bengal government has persuaded the Centre to conduct a fresh survey of the below poverty line (BPL) population in the state.

Panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee had tossed up the proposal at a meeting with his central counterpart Jairam Ramesh at Budge Budge yesterday.

“Poverty estimates by the Centre and the state are markedly different…. So we decided to run a check on whether the Left Front government had inflated the BPL population for political gain. That’s why we proposed a fresh survey and the Centre has agreed,” Mukherjee told The Telegraph.

Although the official reason for the fresh survey is difference in poverty estimates by the Centre and the state — 28.5 per cent and 42.5 per cent, respectively — sources said the Mamata Banerjee government was keen on the exercise to reduce the financial burden on the state exchequer.

The state and the Centre jointly shoulder the financial burden of the two main benefits — 1.5kg rice a week for every BPL person at Rs 2 a kg and a monthly pension of Rs 400 for widows, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

“The state government has to spend Rs 130 crore extra on benefits for the BPL population because the Centre provides grant only for 28.5 per cent of the population,” said a source in Writers’ Buildings.

The Centre gives rice to the state at a subsidised rate — Rs 5.65 a kg — for the 28.5 per cent BPL population. The state subsidises the rate further and provides rice to poor people at Rs 2 a kg. Estimates suggest the state has to spend Rs 106 crore every month to provide rice at Rs 2 a kg to those who do not figure on the Centre’s BPL list.

Similarly, in the case of pensions — which the state and the Centre share equally — the Union government allots its share for 12 lakh pensioners while the state’s figure is 18 lakh pensioners. This means the state has to spend around Rs 24 crore extra every month on this account.

As the state’s income lags behind its expenditure, the benefits for the BPL population have already been affected.

“Each BPL person now gets 1kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg though they are eligible to get 1.5kg a week. We are not getting the required amount from the state and so we are cutting down on allotment,” said Biswambhar Basu, general secretary of the All India fair Price Shop Dealers’ Federation.

Mukherjee admitted that the pension has not reached the beneficiaries for the last 10 months because of financial constraints.

“If a fresh survey shows that the actual BPL population is lower than what the Left government had estimated, the new government can save on its expenditure on BPL population,” said the source.

Cutting down on expenditure, however, will not be possible without a fresh survey.

Sources close to Mukherjee said the minister, who was brought in to streamline operations in the panchayat and rural development department, was aware that Mamata would not like to associate her government with an unpopular measure like striking off people’s names from the BPL list.

“If the survey can show that the Left government had inflated the list, it would be easier for Mukherjee to convince Mamata about the need to trim the BPL list,” the source in Writers’ said.

Mukherjee’s panchayat department would conduct the survey using a special software provided by the Centre. During the survey, people would be asked 12 questions based on some parameters like their income and living condition.

The government’s effort to trim the BPL list has drawn sharp criticism from the Left Front.

“It may be true that the BPL list is not error-free. But if people’s names are abruptly struck off the list, a number of eligible people will be deprived of the benefits. Though the Centre had shared the burden for only 28.5 per cent, our government shouldered the additional burden to ensure that the benefit reached all eligible persons,” said Anisur Rahman, who was panchayat minister in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.