At a time when West Bengal is facing a financial crisis, Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee is allowing an increased budget for Durga Puja Pandal organizers in the city. The committees will be provided with a discount on electricity bills and others which have indeed drawn opposition parties’ ire. Mamta Banerjee-led party TMC defended the step stating that the decision is a financially sound movement that will stimulate the economy due to the festival.
Apart from granting finances, Mamta Banerjee also announced a holiday list for government offices during the Durga Puja festival that will start from 30 September till the 10th of October. Mamta Banerjee has offered Durga Puja organising committees an amount of 60,000 rupees which was earlier Rs 50,000. In addition, a 60% discount on power tariffs for puja committees has been granted which is again a 10% hike from the previous years.
The CM organised a mega rally in Kolkata on 1st September 2022 to thank UNESCO for including Durga Puja on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mamta Banerjee claimed that people from all over the nation will visit West Bengal during the puja to see how it is been performed. She said that the rally was not a political procession but a thankful gesture for UNESCO.
What opposition has to say about Durga Puja Push by Mamta Banerjee?
TMC-led government in Bengal had spent more than 201 crore rupees last year while every 40,383 Durga Puja committees were offered 50,000 INR each. This year, the costs have increased to 240.55 crore rupees. The increased allocation amount for the festival has created concern for opposition parties since the West Bengal-led state government refrained from new social sector projects along with direct cash transfer schemes during the 2022 budget. During the financial year budget, it was estimated that if all proposals are met, the state debt burden will become almost Rs 6 lakh crores.
According to Mamata Banerjee, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) calls for the release of cash for 100 days of labour, but the Centre has not done so. Banerjee has instructed administrators not to propose new projects at a number of administrative gatherings. The CM requested that ministers refrain from submitting ideas for additional projects at the most recent Cabinet meeting due to the government’s financial position. But opposition parties claim that the government opened its funds when it comes to festive celebrations.
Many claims that the CM’s announcement for celebrations came at a time when her government is under immense pressure following party heavyweight Anubrata Mondal and former state minister Partha Chatterjee’s arrests. Further, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Chatterjee during the recruitment scam on the 23rd of July and Mondal was arrested on the 11th of August for cattle smuggling. A BJP spokesperson Samika Bhattacharya said, “The state government is only bothered about celebrating festivals at the cost of an economic crisis. The government does not have funds for development projects but has funds to offer grants to Puja committees.”
The politics of Durga Puja
Since being in power in 2011, the TMC-led state government have supported Durga Puja committees irrespective of the financial condition of the state. Most of the senior leaders of the TMC party are either connected to big-bucket puja committees as patron or president, or, puja committees are aligned with the ruling party. The opposition accuses the TMC government of trying to divert people’s attention during the time of party members’ arrests and probed alleged corruption.
CPIM leaders also claim that if the state is under financial burden, how are they granting such a big amount to puja committees? Durga Puja had been celebrated in the state for ages and without any governmental support. But the TMC government wants to make Durga Puja a political agenda by promoting their party in return for granting large schemes and banners of Mamta Banerjee in Puja pandals.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that Congress does not seek to oppose the party’s move but its motive. If TMC wants to give grants, it should do the same during other festivals as well. But promoting Durga Puja is purposeful since the government want Durga Puja committees to be in their favour. They want to reach out to people and granting money is one of the best ways to do it. However, the ruling party claims that the objective behind the grant is to improve the economy because of the Durga Puja celebration dismissing opposition allegations.