West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday extended free ration scheme for poor till June 2021. Banerjee’s announcement came soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Centre would provide free foodgrains under ‘PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana’ to 80 crore poor people till November 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has affected livelihood of thousands in the country.
The announcement comes just months ahead of the assembly polls in the state due in April-May next year.
Addressing the media at the state secretariat Nabanna on Tuesday, Banerjee said, “In Bengal, only 60 per cent people are getting central ration (under PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana)… Today, they will give free foodgrains, tomorrow they will not give... Why such discrimination? Hence, I have decided to provide free ration to poor people till June 2021 in West Bengal.”
She further said the prime minister should announce free foodgrains for all citizens. “I want our PM to give ration to all the 130 crore people of the country.”
Earlier in the day, Modi said, “The PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana will be extended till the end of November and free ration will be provided to the poor. The extension will cost more than Rs 90,000 crore.”
Regarding the PM’s assurances on the government working on ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme, Banerjee said, “Earlier, people used to get ration cards made of paper. Now, they get digital cards. I don’t know what exactly he meant by ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’. I cannot comment further on this without knowing details about the scheme.”
Mocking her announcement on free ration, the BJP and the CPI(M) said the TMC will be out of power by June next year.
"Why is she making promises she can't fulfil? Her party will be out of power by June next year. This is not an area (free rations) to compete. Just because the prime minister has announced something, it doesn't mean she needs to replicate it. The state government should stop making announcements but concentrate on seamless ration supply for the poor," CPI(M) legislative party leader Sujan Chakraborty said.
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha questioned Banerjee over her announcement and said her statement "will remain an announcement only on pen and paper" and will never see the light of the day.
"The TMC won't be in power after April May next year," he claimed
When asked about the border standoff with China, Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress supremo, said the neighbouring must be given a befitting reply and it is for the Central government to take a call on the matter, adding that her party is with the Centre on the matter.
“We stand by the country in this hour of crisis. We stand with our motherland. Any kind of attack on India is not acceptable to us,” she added.
The chief minister also spoke about reports of commuters facing a harrowing time to reach their respective offices/destinations in the state with about 6,000 private buses staying off the roads over fare issues.
“I will not allow them to increase the fare. We have decided to give them a financial package of Rs 15,000 for three months so that they can resume the service from July 31 without increasing the fare.
“Also, bus drivers and conductors will now be eligible for ‘Swasthya Sathi’ (health scheme of Rs 5 lakh). However, I have heard that they are not willing to accept our proposal. We have to find a solution to this. I will wait for tomorrow and after that we will take control of the private buses and will pay the salary of bus drivers and conductors.”
Regarding new relaxations that have come in force as part of easing of lockdown measures that are in place to contain the spread of coronavirus, Banerjee said, “We are allowing morning walks from 5:30am to 8:30am but social distancing should be maintained. We have also increased the number of guests to be allowed in weddings from 25 to 50 people.”
(With inputs from PTI)