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April 27, 2012

We have completed 99% of what we set out to achieve : Mamata Banerjee

We have completed 99% of what we set out to achieve : Mamata Banerjee

With just about a month left for the first anniversary of her Government, Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee talks to Times Of India on her achievements and the challenges ahead. An extract:


The Maoist issue is now rearing its head nationwide. Do you feel it poses any fresh challenges here?


The porous border with Jharkhand is indeed a problem. While we’ve contained the problem here, there are reports of some infiltration from the Jharkhand border and by the coastal route from Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. We have been able to bring peace in Jangalmahal with the support of the people. The Centre’s own statistics bear out the fact. After we took over, there were 32 incidents of violence from June-December 2011, down from 203 the year before. This year — touchwood — nothing has happened. Twenty-two hardcore Maoists, including Jagori Baskey and Suchitra Mahato, have surrendered. Twenty-one other Maoists, including 14 hardcore cadres, have expressed their desire to surrender. We are considering their plea. I am against any killing — be it innocent civilians or Maoists cadres. But they should understand that taking up the cause of people and resorting to extortion, murder and behaving like jungle mafia are two different things. 

Is anyone instigating them, then?

Definitely. They (Maoists) are stopping poorpeople from accepting the Rs 2-a-kilo rice. Why? Some so-called NGOs that are proliferating on international funds are egging these people. We have brought all tribal families under the BPL category, enabling them to avail the Rs 2-rice scheme. As many as 10,700 youths from Maoist-affected villages have been recruited in police jobs. We organized football tournaments and 11,000 youths turned up to play. All that they want is some sympathy and development. But some people in Kolkata are denying them their right to live. What right do they have to do so? If given a choice, they’d always give up arms and live a peaceful life. Isn’t Suchitra doing it now or Jagori? They never had the choice before.

The Darjeeling issue refuses to die down…

There is no problem now. There is an agreement. For us this is sacrosanct. GJM (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) has signed the agreement. The government will act as per the agreement and we expect the others to do so. Clashes between two parties have led to the present problem. This has been controlled. If anyone violates the agreement, the government will not hesitate to act. We will not violate a single word of the agreement. The people in Darjeeling don’t want any trouble. And we will not let it happen. We have suggested that Darjeeling and Cooch Behar be declared backward areas for special assistance. After the earthquake that rocked Sikkim and Darjeeling last year, the Centre gave Sikkim nearly Rs 1,000 crore but Darjeeling got nothing. Why? 

Bringing fresh investment to Bengal is your biggest challenge.

There is Rs 85,000 crores worth of investment in the pipeline. There are new opportunities too. For example, we intend to build 431 cold storages under the PPP mode. Expressions of interest have already been floated. Two film cities will be set up in Siliguri and Uttarpara. We will provide the land. That is our stake in the project. In Goaltore, we intend to set up a manufacturing unit on two 500-acre plots. The cabinet committee on infrastructure has cleared the Jindal project in Salboni. 

Don’t you want to showcase Bengal outside India? You are the face of Bengal outside, won’t you take the lead?

That we will surely do. A Chinese delegation has already met me. They want me to visit their country. So does a delegation from Singapore. We will send business delegations to these countries to showcase Bengal and attract investment. 

Will your policy on land and SEZ be any impediment?

The cabinet has approved the land policy. The bill will be presented before the next assembly session. The land-use policy will be in place, so too the land map and land bank. Land ceiling laws have been relaxed and if anyone wants to set up industries, he can use the land bank or purchase directly from land-owners. The cabinet committee will approve the purchase. I am against SEZs, on principle. But that should not prevent anyone from setting up industries. The IT industry will get all the facilities — and more — but not the SEZ tag. 

What about the friction with alliance partner Congress in the state?

You should ask them. At the Centre they have no issues. The Prime Minister is very cordial, so is Soniaji. But even as we speak they’ve gheraoed education minister Bratya Basu. At times, I feel they are furthering the agenda of CPM. They play the role of communists here. At times, they even outpace the Opposition. We are the single largest party. We have majority without their support. We still believe that we could have won 35 more seats had they not fielded independent candidates to help CPM. 

How do you evaluate your own performance in these 11 months?

Considering that we came to power mid-year, I am satisfied. I may not be wrong in saying that we’ve completed 99% of what we had set out to achieve. We have already assured 33 days’ work under the 100-day guaranteed work scheme. Under the previous CPM government, this was only 18 days. Some zilla parishads were defunct, some panchayats had been superseded. But now rice procurement has touched 2 lakh tonnes. Four police commissionerates have been set up, two more are coming up. Sixty six all-women police stations have been set up, 19 human rights court and six CBI courts have been set up. A total of 500,000 people have gained employment. Nothing was done by the previous Left Front government. One of the biggest minority districts in Bengal — North 24-Parganas — does not figure in the districts that receive special funds for minority development. Barring 

West Midnapore, no district figures in the extremist-affected zones which would have enabled it to get more funds. We’ve now included Bankura and Purulia in that list.

How would you react to the mounting criticism of your government?

 I have no problem with constructive criticism. But it should be based on facts. I am responsible to the people. I faced criticism as railway minister but I kept on working. Perhaps all this criticism is directed at me because I come from a common family. Nothing deters me. At the end of the day, I know that I work only for the people. No one can say that I took a paisa home from this chair. I even pay for own air tickets. In fact, I also pay for the tea you’re having now.

 Courtesy:Times of India dated 27.04.12