ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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WEST BENGAL- Fiscal Initiatives

 WEST BENGAL Fiscal Initiatives TWO recent documents prepared by West Bengal's Left Front government are extremely well drafted contain a lot of provocative ideas and suggest considerable homework, none of which qualities is a forte of official papers in India. One of them is the, first regular full-year budget presented by Finance Minister Ashok Mitra, and the other the state government's memorandum to the Seventh Finance Commission' Both are marked by a broadside against the existing Centre-state, fiascal and monetary relationships, an issue which is now apparently exercising the state government a great deal, but have many other things to say as well Perhaps the boldest stroke of the budget is the introduction, for the first time in India, of limited scheme of unemployment assistance from the coming fiscal year. In the first year, it will cover 15,000 persons. All those whose names occur in the live registers of the employment exchanges continuously for a period exceeding five years and whose family income is less than Rs 500 a month will be entitled to a monthly allowance of Rs 50 as long as they are unable to secure gainful employment or for three years whichever period is less. They will be expected to participate in one of the approved social welfare projects for two days in a week. The 1977-78 budget has earmarked Rs 9 crores for the scheme whose coverage is intended to be pro- gressivey widened in the coming years. A section of the local press has re- -ported that in seme circles the scheme has come to be viewed as a clever camouflage for guaranteeing a fixed allowance for the cadre of some selected political parties. It is no doubt open to misuse. For the constituent parties of the Front, this can be a novel masquerade for distributing largesse and thus gaining political mileage., Even otherwise, there is always the danger that the clever ones, who may Hot be genuinely eligible, will now try to gatecrash into the scheme by manipulating the employment exchange rolls, Measures to be taken to check such misuse and such questions as whether two eligible members in the same family would be entitled to the allowance will be clarified only when the details of the scheme are published. For all this, the fact remains that the state government has shown very great political and fiscal boldness in introducing a scheme of this type. Its nearest approximation is the job guarantee scheme in operation in Maharashtra but the West Bengal scheme is a more ambitious one. About its financing, Ashok Mitra has hinted at some sort of a profession tax, which is in force in Maharashtra, but has also warned that in the existing circumstances the scope of the tax is very much limited. One windfall advantage of the scheme is that it virtually takes away the option of any successor government to abandon it, for any such move is bound to be met by a storm of protest.

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