The Mamata Banerjee government has allotted Rs 3,000 crore in its budget proposals for 2023-24 to construct rural roads and repair existing rural roads, the generous allocation aimed at addressing the problem of poor roads in villages.
“We are taking up a special project named Rastashree for strengthening the existing roads and improving connectivity of these roads with other places. A total of 11,500km rural roads has been taken up under this project…. I propose to allocate Rs 3,000 crore for this project,” said Chandrima Bhattacharya, the minister of state (independent charge), finance department, said in her budget speech in the House on Wednesday.
Sources said that the allocation is significant as rural roads hold immense importance ahead of rural polls likely to be held in May.
“Trinamul leaders who visited rural areas under the ‘Didir Doot’ programme launched by the party a few weeks ago received several complaints over the poor condition of rural roads. The ruling establishment realised that this will be an important issue in the rural polls and this is the reason why the state allotted a handsome amount for this purpose despite the poor condition of state coffers,” said a senior bureaucrat.
According to sources, roads in rural areas are in bad shape as the Centre does not give funds to maintain roads built under the PMGSY.
Furthermore, the Centre held back funds under the PMGSY scheme for nearly nine months over the change in the name of the scheme in the state.
“For these two reasons, the condition of rural roads has turned pathetic. The state government had to do something to resolve the issue. The new allotment can resolve the issue to an extent ahead of the rural polls,” said a source.
Not only roads, the budget for 2023-24 financial year also focused on several rural issues, which makes it clear that the government is preparing for the panchayat polls.
The state government announced its decision to provide Rs 1,000 for beneficiaries of Lakshmir Bhandar once they attain 60 years of age under the old age pension scheme.
“The scheme has been designed to woo the 1.88 crore beneficiaries of Lakshmir Bhandar. Considering the fact that the announcement of the Lakshmir Bhandar scheme ahead of 2021 had turned the tables in favour of the Trinamul, this new announcement can ensure support from women voters particularly in rural areas,” said an official.
The state budget for 2023- 24 financial year also focused on the fishermen community, which hold the key to electoral success in coastal districts like East Midnapore and South 24-Parganas.
The state government announced a one-time grant of Rs 2 lakh in case of the death of a fisherman aged between 18 and 60 years. His family will get compensation in case of both natural and accidental death.
The state government increased allotment for departments like panchayat (from Rs 25,181 crore to Rs 26,603 crore) and women and social welfare (from Rs 19,238 crore to Rs 22,225 crore) in this year’s budget. Allotment for departments like school education (from Rs 35,126 crore to 37,075 crore) and health (from Rs 17,576 crore to Rs 18,264 crore) has been increased.
“All these departments play key roles in rural areas,” said a source.
Leader of the Opposition and BJP Nandigram MLA Suvendu Adhikari said rural road allocation did not reflect in the budgetary allocation of the department concerned.
Panchayat department sources said when the detailed allotment was published in the departmental budget, the new scheme would definitely be mentioned.
Ashok Lahiri, economist and BJP MLA from Balurghat, questioned the relevance of new schemes at a time when the state government, as he put it, was faltering to deliver on existing schemes.