Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s remarks at the West Bengal Assembly on Friday correlating the rise in incidents of rape in the State with the rise in population drew sharp criticism from the Opposition and a cross section of society.

“What she said is an academic theory proposed by her — a result of her education and research. This will be a part of her unique contribution to the literature available in this field,” Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly Surya Kanta Mishra told journalists. Dismissing it as “completely illogical”, artist Samir Aich, who was once close to Ms. Banerjee, said the suggestion is “an attempt to distract attention from the government’s own failings.”

“The least we can expect from the government is that we will be provided with proper administration. If the rise in population is such that the government cannot prevent crimes, then what is the point of having a government at all,” Mr. Aich said.

Malini Bhattacharya, former Chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, said if one looks at the rise of rape cases over the last two years, the rise in population in this period cannot be understood to be a cause.

“On the other hand, if one looks at the progress made in the cases reported — the investigation itself, whether charge-sheets have been filed, whether a verdict has been given from the courts — it has been very slow. If there is apathy in the higher levels of administration, it is possible that criminals are receiving encouragement,” Ms. Bhattacharya said.

The mere fact that crimes against women are being reported to have taken place in public places — on roads, in buses and in the union rooms of educational institutions — raises crucial questions about how seriously the administration treats the issue, she said.

 Ms. Bhattacharya said Ms. Banerjee’s comments “only show the administration’s apathy.”

 Pointing out that crimes in general are on the rise, Ms. Bhattacharya said it is another reason to prioritise the safety of women in the State.

 Human Rights activist Sujata Bhadra described Ms. Banerjee’s remarks as “ridiculous.”

“There is no connection between increase in rape and the rise in population. Rape reflects the way the men see women as a commodity. It calls for a long-standing fight against the culture and the way men view women. But one should not try to take refuge in such absurd remarks to belittle such struggles,” Mr. Bhadra said.