West Bengal rolls out ‘Lakshmi Bhandar’, largest cash transfer

The number of applicants cross 1 crore in a week

August 24, 2021 09:19 pm | Updated 09:20 pm IST - Kolkata:

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

West Bengal government has started the process of rolling out its largest cash transfer scheme, ‘Lakshmi Bhandar’, and hundreds of thousands of women across the rural and urban areas of the State are queuing up to enroll for the scheme.

Lakshmi Bhandar entails a direct benefit transfer of ₹500 per month to women of the general category and ₹1,000 per month to women from reserved categories. The scheme was a poll promise of the Trinamool Congress and, riding high on such promises and other welfare schemes, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came to power for the third consecutive time.

Scenes of crowds gathering at the ‘Duare Sarkar’ camps, often leading to stampede-like situations, were reported from different parts of the State. There were reports of women being injured at Malda, Basirhat and Hooghly, among other places. At some places, police personnel had to resort to force to bring the situation under control. Ms. Banerjee urged people to not crowd at the camps, and suggested that, if required, the State government would extend the duration of these camps.

The Duare Sarkar outreach camps started on August 16 and after almost a week, the number of people approaching the camps has touched 1 crore. The official website of the West Bengal government states that till August 23, the footfalls at the Duare Sarkar camps was 97.79 lakh, and on Wednesday (August 24) about 17.24 lakh people came to the camps. Most of the applications this year are for Lakshmi Bhandar scheme.

“The turnout for Lakshmi Bhandhar this year is expected to be the main draw for this phase, compared to the ‘Swastha Sathi’ experience of the previous phase. More than 2 crore women are expected to turn up in the camps, especially to enroll themselves in Lakshmi Bhandar,” read the minutes of a meeting chaired by the State’s Chief Secretary on August 12.

Preliminary estimates by the State government had suggested that ₹1,100 crore would be spent per month for the scheme, and the number of beneficiaries may end up at 1.6 crore. Only families that have a government job or pension cannot apply for the scheme. In an attempt to prevent forgeries, the State government has decided to give forms for the scheme from the Duare Sarkar camps. A unique identification number is generated on the basis of the Aadhar card and forms for the scheme are being distributed from based in the number forms for Lakshmi Bhandar are being distributed from the Duare Sarkar camps. There are about 2,100 camps, according to the CM.

While crowding at the Duare Sarkar scheme remains a concern, Opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party have questioned the economics behind such a scheme and accused the Trinamool Congress of turning West Bengal into a dole-dependent society. State BJP spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya accused the West Bengal government of playing to the gallery, and not generating enough employment in the State.

“Schools have not opened for students, but schools are full of applicants seeking Lakshmi Bhandar. Such schemes are also implemented in other States, where new investments are also being made. This government has reduced the society of West Bengal to a dole-dependent society and has not only handed over the begging bowl to the people, but also highlighting it with much pomp,” Mr. Bhattacharya said on Tuesday.

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