West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday doubled the dole to clubs organising community Durga Puja. At a meeting of the Puja organisers and police officials, she said the money would be increased from ₹10,000 to ₹25,000 this year.
“Last year we gave ₹10,000 to all the clubs. This time many Pujas have monetary needs. We don’t beg from anybody or want anybody’s pity and have increased it to ₹25,000,” she said.
There are 28,000 community Durga Pujas and the decision would cost the exchequer ₹70 crore. The Trinamool Congress had last year announced ₹10,000 to 28,000 committees, a decision which was challenged in the Calcutta High Court. The High Court on October 2018 had refused to interfere saying the Legislature was the forum to account for the nature of expenditure incurred by the State government.
Ms. Banerjee said every club, whether big or small, would get this money. “The Kolkata Police and the West Bengal Police will also help those Pujas which women are organising. They will be given a special concession of ₹5,000.” The Chief Minister also announced 25% power tariff concession to Pujas which would source power from the Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation and the West Bengal State Electricity Board.
Announcing that no Puja committee would pay any income tax, Ms. Banerjee said she would not “let anybody politicise Bengal’s Pujo”. The Durga Pujas, the biggest cultural extravaganza in West Bengal, have been at the centre of political discourse over the past few years. Issues from giving money to the committees from the State exchequer, immersion and IT notices to certain committees have been bitterly contested by the political parties. Ms. Banerjee’s move, according to political observers, is aimed at countering the BJP which is trying to take control of certain big ticket Pujas.
Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said Ms. Banerjee was trying to win over the people by “bribing them”. He reminded how certain Puja organisers had to approach the High Court over the immersion of the idols when it coincided with Muharram.
Amiya Patra, CPI(M) central committee member, said the Chief Minister who cited financial distress while providing eggs to children in mid-day meal did not think twice before showering ₹70 crore for the Pujas. “If ₹70 crore was spent all the children in the State-run schools would get four eggs every week for an entire year,” he said.