Mamata Banerjee, the Bengal Chief Minister, has promised free vaccination to the people of Bengal during the campaign. Now that she is back in power, she will have to fulfil the promise that will cost the state exchequer, according to an officer of the finance department, about 5,000 crores. Not much for a state whose, Gross State Domestic Product is estimated to be Rs 14,44,174 crore rupees and total receipts (excluding borrowing) are estimated to be Rs 1,79,905 crore for the year 2020-21.
The problem for the new government is that there was no allocation for this in the budget. Apart from that many new promises have been made during the election season, including sending the ration to the consumer’s house, and all these will add pressure on the state exchequer.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) that this time has registered its best performance ever (it has won 209 and leading in 4 out of 292 constituencies), and has secured a vote share of 48 per cent), believes its success has come due to many social welfare programmes. These were given special thrust through Duare Sarkar (government at doorstep) launched ahead of the election to deliver 12 welfare schemes, including Khadya Sathi (food security), Kanyashree (financial assistance to girls for pursuing higher education), Krishak Bondhu (for farmers and sharecroppers), and Swasthya Sathi (the universal health scheme). So, the party insiders claim, it is only natural that Mamata Banerjee will now go all out to fulfil new promises, including free vaccination.
Meanwhile, the opposition camp has raised the demand for free vaccination nationwide. Didi has said she would lead a movement against the Centre for free vaccines. If the centre accepts this demand, the Bengal government will have to bear only the cost of logistics. The state government has not started vaccination for those below 45 as there is a shortage of vaccine. Mamata Banerjee is castigating the Centre for not providing enough vaccine.
Meanwhile, the covid situation in Bengal is worsening day by day. On Sunday, 17,512 people were affected with covid and 103 have died. The number of active cases has risen to 1,16,659. Both the government and private hospitals have increased the number of beds, but those hospitals are suffering from a shortage of doctors and medical staff.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)