By Avishek Rakshit
Burdwan, July 16 (IANS) “Tell me, are you facing any problem? Please don’t hesitate. Please feel free (to tell me). Are there any hindrances in implanting the policies?” The series of questions left the otherwise smart and well-dressed young man somewhat fumbling for words. For the questioner was none other than West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
But the youthful Block Development officer of Kalna quickly gathered his composure. “Madam, I don’t face any problem. I am getting whatever I want. And if there are issues, I bring it to the notice of the district heads like the DM who solves them.”
“Ok, then is everything ok in your block? Are peasants getting the Kissan credit cards,” asked the chief minister, as the BDO reeled off statistics which satisfied her.
This is just a snippet of the 90-minute district administrative meeting that Banerjee presided over at the Sanskriti Lok Manchaauditorium here on Wednesday.
The meeting was both routine and special. Toutine because Banerjee has been regularly touring districts with her entire council of ministers and secretaries for such administrative review meetings since she took over the reins of the state in 2011. It is her way of running the administration by interacting with even the grassroot level bureaucracy.
“From CM, to the DM to the BDO,” as Banerjee says about her model of governance.
But the one in Burdwan was also special as it was the 100th such meeting chaired by the chief minister.
With less than a year left for the assembly polls, the state government did not lose the opportunity of turning the occasion into a public relations exercise.
And in a departure from past meetings which were held behind closed doors, this one was thrown open to academicians, bank chairmen and a poet, as also a posse of journalists, who were driven to the venue alongside top bureaucrats and other key personnel from Kolkata in five Volvo Royal Cruisers.
Banerjee kickstarted the parleys by waxing eloquent about the development ushered in by her government “despite a huge loan burden inherited (from the erstwhile Left Front regime)”. The entire Burdwan district administration was in attendance.
The chief minister then proceeded to ask District Magistrate Soumitra Mohan about the implementation of government schemes like the 100 days rural employment guarantee programme. She seemed satisfied with the DM’s reply that at present 39 days’ work was being given in the district.
Banerjee enquired about various issues in Burdwan, suggesting ways and means of handling them.
The festive season of Eid and the “rath yatra” chariot festival were on top her mind.
“Eid and Jagannath festival are on the same day, July 18, and we need to ensure peace by holding meetings with the two communities (Muslim and Hindu)… Has it been done,” she asked the district magistrate as also the superintentent of police. Both responded positively.
Banerjee then started taking stock of the progress made by each department, calling out the district officials, secretaries and ministers to present their cases.
Perhaps keeping in mind the assembled guests and that the event was telecast live by most channels, Banerjee saw to it that discussions on every scheme related to Burdwan was followed by a presentation of the overall picture in the state. The departmental secretaries and ministers had all come armed with figures and statistics to tom tom their success stories.
State power secretary Gopal Krishna announced that by January-February 2016, every household in West Bengal will have access to electricity.
Banerjee revealed that while three crore poor people in backward and tribal areas now got rice at Rs.2 a kg, an additional 3.2 crore people would soon be provided rice at Rs.3 per kg.
“We need to ensure that the names of all poor people are there on the list. I give you an additional one month’s time to include all those whose names are missing,” she told the DM.
She didn’t even forget the traditional mouthwatering sweets of Burdwan – the famous langcha of Shaktigarh and sitabhog and mihidana of Burdwan. “We will have a langcha hub in Shaktigarh, where mihidana and sitabhog will also be showcased. We have to promote them,” she told Mohan.
Next, it was the turn of police Circle Inspectors and police station heads to stand up one-by-one and respond to her queries on the law and order situation.
“I know which blocks and divisions are communally sensitive and you (police) need to ensure peace is maintained in wake of the festival,” she told policemen.
Thereafter, the floor was opened for the media.
Banerjee was asked about the absence of opposition parties in the meeting.
“We had invited them. There was no politics in this. Why the opposition has not turned up only they can say,” she said, but took a lighthearted dig at the media, with whom her government shares a hot-and-cold relation.
“The media is my largest opposition. What is the need for others when the media is here,” Banerjee quipped.
(Avishek Rakshit can be contacted at email@example.com)