During her time as chief minister, Banerjee has copied the freebie culture prevailing in the Tamil Nadu politics. She began soon after her first year of being in power in West Bengal and the scale only increased as BJP emerged as the strongest political rival in the state, threatening to unseat Mamata from the state’s power corridors.
In February 2021, Mamata launched “Maa Canteens” and allotted Rs 100 crore to the scheme to provide food to the poor at Rs 5. In January, she hiked dearness allowance for West Bengal state government employee by three percent.
“Krishak Bandhu”, launched in January 2019, is seen as a counter scheme to the Central Government’s PM-Kisan initiative to help farmers, and covers 1.30 crore farmers in the state. In the current budget, the state government raised the annual amount to be given to Rs 6000 per acre per year from Rs 5000 previously and Rs 2,647.89 has been the expenditure incurred so far under the scheme.
The West Bengql government also increased the current minimum assistance to farmers from Rs 2000 to Rs 3000, irrespective of the quantum of land they have. Besides this, aged farmers also get a monthly pension of Rs 1,000 with around 1 lakh beneficiaries so far.
In the current budget, the West Bengal government decided to bring all the existing pension schemes under the “Jai Bangla Scheme-2020”. Monthly pension under the scheme has been made uniform at Rs 1000 for all the existing schemes and the initiative has covered 23,16,058 beneficiaries so far.
“Khadyasaathi” is a state government initiative put into effect since January 2016 that ensures food security to the poor people who are from the marginalised and economically weaker sections and the initiative covers 9.98 crore beneficiaries.
“Swasthya Sathi”, another scheme that is seen as a counter to the Central government’s “Ayushman Bharat” scheme, has now been made universal covering the entire state. Mamata’s government says the scheme now covers over 10 crore people. The scheme gives a basic health cover of Rs 5 lakh as “Ayushman Bharat” but unlike “Ayushman Bharat”, covers even the extended family of the beneficiary.
“Eye Health for All” covers over 8 lakh underprivileged people. It even offers free spectacles after the check up.
The state government, under its Rural Housing Scheme, has sanctioned 31,30,824 houses while under the Chaa Sundari scheme, permanent tea garden workers are supposed to get pucca homes. For the SC and ST population, the current budget says, continuing the tradition, that the state is going to build another 20 lakh pucca houses in the next five years.
The state that has given free school uniforms to more than 8.12 crore school children since 2011 has also announced Rs 10,000 to each student of Class XII of the government-aided or sponsored schools and madrassahs to purchase tabs or smartphones for access to online education in light of the pandemic.
Over 13 lakh OBC, SC and ST beneficiary students so far have been covered under different scholarship schemes of the state so far.
The “Sabooj Sathi” scheme has been there since 2015-16 to ‘give them increased access to high school education’ as the current budget writes. Twelve lakh students will bet bicycles under the scheme this year.
Under “Yuvashree” since 2013, eligible unemployed youth get unemployment assistance worth Rs 1500 per month and the initiative, so far, has covered 1,81,477 beneficiaries.
For adolescent girls, under “Kanyashree” scheme since 2013, financial assistance is given to poor girls since 2013. The scheme helps girls between the age of 13 to 19 through cash transfers for their education and empowerment and has seen 67,96,966 beneficiaries so far.
Under the “Rupashree” scheme, girls get Rs 25,000 for their marriage and the initiative has seen 8,49,138 beneficiaries.
Under “Hasir Alo” initiative, the poorest of the poor get free electricity till a basic benchmark set and the scheme covers 35 lakh families.
When it comes to minorities, more than 1 crore minority students have availed state’s scholarships so far. Madrassah students from Class I to VIII get free books, uniforms, bags and shoes. Mamata’s government claims that it has included 99% of the state’s Muslim population in the OBC category that gets 17% of reservation.
Since 2012, imams and muezzins get monthly allowances. Imams get Rs 2500 a month, while Rs 1000 is given to muezzins who give the aazaan (call to prayer).
BJP and other critics have alleged that Mamata has a deep anti-Hindu bias because Hindu priests were never covered under any such measure.
Now, with BJP’s meteoric rise in the state, Mamata was forced to do a balancing act. In September last year, she announced a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 for Brahmin priests and 8,000 free houses. The initiative called “Jai Bangla” also covers priests of other communities like Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis, including Tribals, the current budget says.