West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday asked the Centre to clear all financial dues of the state worth Rs 53,000 crore to help it fight the COVID-19 pandemic effectively.
Banerjee, during an online programme where Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated new testing facilities in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, also sought the creation of a separate fund for the combating the disease.
Welcoming the centre's decision for opening the “high throughput” testing facility in Kolkata (besides Noida and Mumbai), Banerjee said, “We are doing well in containing the virus. You can tell the world that we are giving free treatment to COVID-19 patients. The state government is even bearing the cost of treatment of COVID-19 patients in private hospitals.”
Stating the her government is handling the pandemic crisis well, she urged the PM to release all dues of the state, which was also hit by Cyclone Amphan sometime ago.
“We have set up 106 safe houses for those who don’t want to go to government isolation centres. We have started a unique concept of COVID Clubs, our discharge rate is more than 64 per cent, even though comorbidity is 86 per cent. We have set up a plasma bank. We request you (PM Modi) to the funds due at the earliest. We are yet to get our dues of Rs 53,000 crore,” she added.
Banerjee’s statement on Bengal doing well in tackling the pandemic came days after the Central team highlighted serious lapses in the matter.
Regarding the ‘COVID clubs’, Banerjee said, “Those who survived the diseases were engaged (willingly) to counsel coronavirus-infected patients admitted at various hospitals in the state. We have set up these clubs where recovered patients can share their experience with those infected at the moment.”
On Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, she requested the Prime Minister to lift the conditional clause in availing the benefits.
“The Centre's decision to link increased borrowing limits for states under the FRBM Act to the fulfilment of conditions is against the basic tenets of the system."
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently said that the Centre is increasing the borrowing limit under the FRBM Act from three per cent to five per cent.
Mamata further said, “Actually it’s only 0.5 per cent. The other 1.5 per cent I will get if I agree to certain conditions which goes against the federal system. I would like to request our PM to withdraw the conditional clause for the betterment of states.”
She also said that the money from the state's disaster relief fund was being used for rehabilitation work after cyclone Amphan. "I would request the central government to clear the financial dues of the state immediately. If we utilise all money from the state disaster relief fund for post-cyclone restoration works, how are we supposed to fight the pandemic," the CM said during the online programme.
Cyclone Amphan had struck West Bengal on may 20, leaving behind a trail of destruction "There is a need for a separate fund to fight the pandemic. I would request you (the prime minister) to look into it," she added.
Banerjee also sought Modi’s intervention in the decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to compulsorily conduct terminal examinations for various courses in colleges and universities in the midst of the pandemic.
The chief minister stressed that the revised guidelines of UGC on conducting examinations are against the interest of the health, safety and future of students.
“In the prevailing situation, such revised guidelines issued by the UGC, will adversely affect the interest of students of West Bengal and all over the country. I would, therefore, request you (PM Modi) to get the matter re-examined immediately and restore the earlier advisory of UGC. This will facilitate state governments to implement its decision, taken on the basis of the guidelines of UGC, issued on April 29, 2020, to protect the interest of the students at national and international levels,” she added.
(With inputs from PTI)