To counter the "speed breaker" charge levelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and prevent the Centre from taking all the credit of social schemes, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee made a canny move by agreeing to implement the PM Kisan and Ayushman Bharat schemes on the condition that the funds would be routed through the state government.
While the BJP has termed this condition a ploy to encourage "cut money" and "syndicate" culture, Mamata maintained that PM Modi will take all the credit when the state is bearing 40 per cent of the cost. On several occasions she has also raised the question that why were state governments not consulted before conceptualising such schemes (including PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana) by the Centre.
In January 2019, at a public rally in Krishnanagar in Nadia district, Mamata had announced the withdrawal of the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and alleged that the Centre is using the picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the official communication to take credit for a jointly-funded project. “The logo has also been designed to resemble the symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party,” she had said.
Now when the state election is scheduled to be held in 2021, Mamata says (for the farmers and those eligible for ‘Ayushman Bharat’) that despite her willingness, the Centre is blocking these two schemes from being implemented in Bengal. “Despite our willingness, the Centre will never route the funds for the schemes through the state government and there lies the catch. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Now the ball is in the BJP’s court. Now, they have to decide, who is the speed breaker here,” a senior TMC leader said.
In a letter (dated September 9, 2020) to union minister of agriculture and farmers’ welfare Narendra Singh Tomar, Mamata mentioned, “It is heard that the Bengal government is not implementing the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme launched by the Centre. In this connection, the state government has already introduced the 'Krishak Bandhu' scheme to provide financial assistance to farmers including sharecroppers. Under this scheme, farmers and sharecroppers receive Rs 5000 from the government.
The scheme also envisages death benefit of Rs 2 lakh in case of unfortunate death of any farmer in the age group of 18 to 60. More than 73 lakh farmers are being covered under the 'Krishak Bandhu' scheme in Bengal. Moreover, the state government provides a comprehensive crop insurance facility to the farmers where the entire insurance premium is borne by the state government and is completely free for the farmers.
"However, we will be happy to provide benefits to the farmers under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, and in that case, the central government may transfer the requisite funds directly to the state government for further disbursement with full responsibility to the beneficiaries through the state government machinery," she had said.
Writing a similar letter to union health minister Harsh Vardhan, Banerjee mentioned that she has already implemented a health scheme in Bengal which is known as ‘Swasthya Sathi’. “However, the Ayushman Bharat scheme may be extended by the Centre with an entire 100 per cent expenditure for the scheme. In such a case, the entire funding for the scheme may be routed through the state government,” a section of her letter reads.
Many feel that it was Mamata’s calculated move to take on the allegation of "speed breaker, Didi" while putting the Centre in a fix (over central schemes) with a rider that funding for the schemes ‘may’ be routed through the state government.
Speaking to News18.com, veteran CPI (M) leader Amiya Patra, said, “Interestingly, we have noticed that in her letter to the union minister of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, and union health minister Harsh Vardhan, she has mentioned that the Centre ‘may’ and not the Centre ‘must’ route the fund through the state government. The letter was drafted carefully so that she can get mileage during political campaigns that it was the Centre which became a ‘speed breaker’ and not her government.”
He said, “With this letter she freed herself from the allegation of ‘speed breaker’ and she can tell people that despite differences in ideology she decided to implement the schemes (only for the betterment of the farmers and poor people) but it was the Centre which refused to support the Bengal government. People didn’t take her stand on blocking central schemes well and with this letter she has offered a Hobson's choice to the Centre. The ball is now in the Centre’s court. Both PM Modi and Mamata were eager for publicity/taking credit and there is no doubt that her stand on implementing these two schemes is purely a political one.”
It may be noted that on April 3, 2019, addressing a public meeting at Siliguri, Modi while hitting out at Mamata, had said, “There is a speed breaker in West Bengal and people call her ‘Didi’. We are releasing funds for the poor and she is coming in between as a speed breaker. She is blocking our schemes for the betterment of the people because she loves poverty. Her political ideology is based on poverty. If there is no poverty, then there is no politics left for her in Bengal. We tried to implement Ayushman health scheme but Didi blocked it. We tried to implement PM Kisan Samman Yojana but Didi blocked it. Our schemes for farmers were blocked by Didi. This shows that their intention is clear. They don’t want to work for the poor.”
The PM was reacting to Mamata blocking central schemes after she issued a circular on April 12, 2017, for changing the names of central government schemes, including Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which is now known as Mission Nirmal Bangla.
Schemes nationally known as Aajeevika (National Rural Livelihood Mission), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Grameen) are now known as Anandadhara (State Rural Livelihood Mission), Banglar Gramin Sadak Yojana and Banglar Griha Prakalpa, respectively in West Bengal.
BJP vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said, “West Bengal has denied the benefit of Rs 12,000 per farmer under the central scheme (Pradhan Mantri Kishan Samman Nidhi). More than 70 lakh farmer families have been deprived of Rs 8,400 crore only due to petty political consideration of the ruling party. The state government reportedly barred the farmers' benefit only because the 'Direct Benefit Transfer' scheme will not allow cut-money practice of the ruling party.”
Political experts say that Mamata knows it well that nearly 3.7 crore eligible beneficiaries of PM Kisan and Ayushman Bharat schemes are present in Bengal and she does not want to spoil her political campaign ahead of the 2021 assembly polls with a ‘speed breaker’ tag. “Now she can openly criticise the Centre by saying that she expressed her willingness to implement these two schemes but the Centre is not cooperating. It is a well-thought move because 3.7 crore (approx) beneficiaries are very crucial in terms of vote share,” political expert Kapil Thakur said.