Bengal puts all payments on hold till budget 2022-23 is placed in Assembly today
The Mamata Banerjee government has put on hold all payments for March till the budget for the next fiscal is approved. The state finance minister (independent charge), Chandrima Bhattacharya, will present the budget for the next financial year beginning April 1 in the Assembly on Friday afternoon.
“Pay bill generation for March, 2022 is temporarily suspended till the Finance Budget 2022-23 of the Government of West Bengal,” reads the one-line notification issued on March 7, the day the budget session started.
Asim Dasgupta, who had helmed the finance department during the Left Front era from 1987-2011, explained that the government’s notification seems to have been issued to avoid legal complications.
“The current fiscal is till March 31. If funds are not allocated in the budget, then the government cannot spend a penny,” said Dasgupta. “Once the budget is placed and approved the government will be able to spend the amount allocated.”
In an administrative review meeting held a week ago at Calcutta’s Netaji Indoor Stadium, Mamata had claimed, “The Centre owes us more than Rs 90,000crore. We have not received any funds from the Centre.”
According to the state budget for 2021-22, the state’s share of central taxes and duties for the current fiscal was estimated at Rs 50,070.29 crore, along with central grants which was Rs 56,583.50 crore.
Whether the Narendra Modi government actually owes the Bengal government Rs 90,000 crore or not will become clear once the budget papers are placed.
A glance at the state government’s revenue expenditure for the current fiscal showed a jump of Rs 33,120.50 crore in the current fiscal from the 2020-21. The revised revenue expenditure for 2020-21 was Rs 1,80,316.01 crore. In the 2021-22 financial year, it was estimated at Rs 2,13,436.51 crore.
Sources said schemes like Lakshmir Bhandar (a much-touted welfare scheme of Mamata wherein Rs 1,000 is transferred directly to bank accounts of women in the reserved category and Rs 500 to those in the general category) have been draining the government’s resources.
Bengal has been one of the heaviest borrowers among all the states in recent months. According to the budget document of 2021-22 fiscal, the state government is estimated to borrow Rs. 31,042.65 crore.
According to figures available with the Reserve Bank of India, Bengal borrowed Rs 6,500 crore in three instalments in January 2022 from the open market, the second highest after BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh. Between December 14, 2021 to January 24, 2022, the Mamata Banerjee government has borrowed Rs 13,000 crore.
Sources said to run schemes like Swasthya Saathi and Lakshmir Bhandar, the government with not many options to raise revenues has to depend on market borrowings.
On Friday, the Association of Hospital of Eastern India is scheduled to send a letter to health secretary Narayan Swaroop Nigam demanding early release of payments made under the Swasthya Saathi scheme, as well as a revision of the package structure.
Swasthya Saathi, which had around 2.37crore beneficiaries when it was launched, saw a massive hike in the number of beneficiaries touching 8.30 crore after Mamata turned it into a universal health scheme to counter the Centre’s Aayushman Bharat.
One private hospital in South Calcutta is yet to receive Rs 16.50 crore due under the Swasthya Saathi scheme. According to sources, the backlog in payments has now gone up to anywhere between 60-90 days. The total backlog for hospitals is estimated to be around Rs 130 crore.
It is not the health sector alone that is suffering fue to lack of funds. A 128-year-old literary institution in North Calcutta was approved an annual grant of Rs 99 lakh. In the current fiscal, it has received only Rs 35 lakh, and that too after several missives to the finance department.
A cursory glance says Bengal’s fiscal health is not good, how bad it is will be revealed on Friday when the new finance minister places the budget at the state legislative Assembly.