Bengal monetary benefit schemes fail to help needy citizens

Pranab Mukherjee selling amsattya

By Roshni Chakrabarty & Arnab Mitra

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched several monetary benefit schemes and employment related policies after she came into power in 2011, to make the lives of Bengal citizens a tad easier. However, common citizens truly in need of the schemes rarely receive any benefit.

It’s a sore reality that one has to be a party worker or a TMC supporter to gain from schemes such as the Yuvasree, Kanyasree, Bardhakya Bhata (old age allowances), or Bidhaba Bhata (widow allowances).

Pranab Mukherjee, 65, doesn’t have any of the luxuries of his namesake, the President. His son’s unemployment and health problems, and the fear of huger makes him travel a distance of 30 km daily to sell his home-made amsattya (a chewy sweet prepared from treated mango pulp) in the Kolkata streets.

Pranab Mukherjee with his son Somnath

Pranab was working at Hindustan Motors when he suffered an accident. Since it occurred during duty hours, the company did provide him the medical compensation, but in the process denied him his Provident Fund.

“I made several attempts to meet Deepa Munshi, who was the MD of the company at that time. But ultimately I wasn’t successful. The company shut down in 2014, so now there is no chance to get my money,” said Pranab.

Pranab gets a pension of Rs 700 per month, which is too less to run a family. In July 2009, he resorted to start selling amsattya to make an honest living.

Pranab with his wife and her brother, preparing amsattya

“My wife and her brother make the amsattya and I go to sell it. I keep the price at Rs 30 per piece. I have been to the Writers Building, Reserve Bank, High Court, LIC office, and even my old Hind Motor office to sell amsattya,” said Pranab.

“Soon after I started to sell amsattya, I went to the Writer’s Building to try my luck. Within half an hour I had sold my entire stock. This gave me a renewed sense of vigor and I decided to continue this business,” Pranab added.

Pranab, who had fractured his leg in an old accident and had to get it set through surgery, walks to most of his business areas from the Howrah railway station. “I like walking. I do have leg problems but if I walk, it feels better,” he said.

Pranab’s wife and son are concerned about his health and the strenuous activity he undertakes everyday, and with good reason. “One day, I was just about to get up on the bus and maybe the conductor didn’t see me… he hit the bell and the bus started. I fell so hard!” recalled Pranab.

However, he is still adamant on earning his living. “My family asks me to not go so far or to come back earlier. How can I come back early? It’s not possible! I finish selling at around nine at night… After that the bus takes more than three hours to reach my area,” he remarked.

Pranab’s son Somnath Mukherjee worked as a manager at ‘Paradise Hotel’ in Kolkata when he was diagnosed with TB in its primary stage in 2013. However, he didn’t receive any medical benefit from the company. When he went to apply for unemployment compensation under the State Government ‘Yuvasree Prakalpa’, he was denied any funds.

“The officials refused my application saying that I did not have any valid documents and they refused to accept my Adhar Card details citing address issues. They paid no attention to me,” said Somnath.

To improve the business, when Somnath applied for a BSKP loan of Rs 5 lakhs to improve the business, but even that didn’t work out.

“As an unemployed person, I need a guarantor for this loan… But who would be the guarantor from an unemployed boy?” Somnath said with regret.

Mina Mukherjee, Pranab’s wife, feeding son Somnath

When he had more or less recovered from TB, Somnath suffered a bad accident in December 2014, which almost took his leg off. He was treated at home by a local doctor and two compounders from Jivan Deep hospital. But recently, they declared there was nothing more they could do.

“I still bleed if I stand for too long. A part of the wound is refusing to heal. Doctors say I need skin grafting, a procedure which will cost a lakh. Moreover, this can only be done in a big hospital. We don’t have the financial means to carry this out…” Somnath said.

Somnath, however, commended the help he got from local councilor Sankar Kumar Das. “Sankar da even went with me to the bank when I went to ask for the BSKP loan. It didn’t work out of course, but he assisted me in understanding where to get medical help from, how to obtain medicines, and told me about the official procedures.”

Baidyabati local councillor Sankar Kumar Das
Baidyabati local councillor Sankar Kumar Das

Sankar Kumar Das told NewsGram that the TMC government run Baidyabati Municipality was working pretty well, and that the chairman Arindam Guin was a “good man”. However, since Das himself was a Congress member, there was a high possibility that Guin would face problems from board members for complying with the wishes of a rival party member.

“Board meetings take care of issues deemed important by their own party before dealing with the rest. That is entirely natural and expected,” said Das. “I am pretty sure that if I ask money in the name of two schemes, I will get at least one.”

Arindam Guin, who had come up with the slogan ‘Ma Mati Manush’ which helped bring the current Bengal CM to power, refrained from making any comment.

“I don’t want to make any comment now. If anybody faces any sort of problem, they are always welcome to come to me. As the people’s chairman, I will try my level best to solve their issue,” said Guin.

Pranab Mukherjee’s situation is akin to hundreds and thousands of others in India. Despite numerous promises by the Modi government to make the country economically viable within 2020, possibility of true success is questionable, when the country’s downtrodden are not provided adequate help and resources to contribute towards their self-sustenance.


Photos by Arnab Mitra