`Trade unions must behave'

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This is the second time Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be facing the electorate in West Bengal as Chief Minister. In an interview to Marcus Dam, he talks of his Government's achievements over the past five years and identifies the areas that need improvement. There is a need for the Government to perform better and also for Government employees to be more responsive to the needs of the people, he says. Excerpts from the interview:

The Left Front's slogan in the 2001 Assembly elections was development. What is it this time?The same. What we have added to it is "more struggle and more development."

Looking back, have you been able to identify the shortcomings of your Government and the areas that need improvement?I have never been complacent. One important area is the spread of primary education. There are 68,000 schools across the State but the quality of teaching is still very poor, and a programme with the help of the British Council is under way to educate the teachers how to teach English. Our earlier "Education for All" programme has made considerable headway, but what is important now is improving the quality of teaching. The teachers need to be committed; a good number of them don't have the devotion. Panchayat-run primary schools are performing better in many places even though the teachers there are paid less.

Another area that we need to look at is the health sector. We cannot ignore the popular perception about the health system, which is not very encouraging. The problem is three-fold - commitment, discipline and cleanliness of employees. We need to improve on all on these fronts. We should bear in mind the large number of people admitted to our hospitals each year, and the large numbers treated. No State can better our record. But this is not an excuse for not improving on these fronts.

Would you like to dwell on your Government's successes?The agriculture sector has been a success story. We have achieved a high in foodgrains production. The investment in industry has increased to over Rs. 5,000 crore, and more is on the way.

Your thrust over the years has been on greater industrialisation. Have trade union rights been compromised in any way?I do not think so. It has not happened in our State. But trade unions must behave. We have to forget the past. They must share the responsibility of competition, productivity and help in improving the quality of production; otherwise industry will just collapse, and workers will lose their jobs. In the past, we did commit some mistakes in the name of trade unions. Nowhere have trade union rights been curtailed. We cannot support the policy of hire and fire. We must have harmonious relations between the management and workers for the growth of industry.

A general trend in civilization is the shift from village to town, from agriculture to industry. But we have to take a balanced view how much agricultural land can we afford to convert without encroaching on fertile land for setting up industry, while ensuring food security.

Do you have an adequate monitoring system to ensure that the benefits of the socio-economic development schemes, initiated in areas affected by Maoist insurgency, reach the targeted groups?We have identified 4,612 villages, where the poorest of the poor live. Some of these have been affected by Maoist insurgency and the extremists are trying to exploit underdevelopment and poverty. I am personally monitoring our socio-economic development schemes for these areas. Almost 70 per cent of our programmes have already been implemented.

The thrust areas are: improving irrigation through rainwater harvesting and water reservoirs in low-lying areas, providing subsidies for those who depend on forest produce and revamping the tribal co-operatives, some of which have become defunct.

What, in your opinion, does the average voter expect of a government?Betterment of their lives and economic development, so that the poorest of the poor can be benefited. Stability, communal harmony and a democratic atmosphere are also among the expectations.



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