|Mamata in Kharagpur on Monday. Picture by Saikat Santra|
TT, Kharagpur, April 3: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee today announced a waiver of agricultural land tax that is expected to cost the government Rs 200 crore in revenues annually and advised the Centre to follow the example to write off farm loans.
The chief minister, who started her tour of the south Bengal districts today, continued with her attacks on the BJP. Sources in Trinamul said both the announcement and the tirade against the BJP indicated that Mamata had set sights on the panchayat polls next year.
"I am making an announcement that would be applicable across the state. We are not going to take agricultural land tax from those outside the purview of land ceiling," Mamata told the rally in Kharagpur.
"This is going to cost us Rs 200 crore in revenue, but this must be done for the poor and marginalised farmers.... I want the Centre to follow the example and waive farm loans. This will prevent farm suicides in many parts of the country," she added.
The tax waiver is expected to benefit farmers who own agricultural land less than 24.2 acres. Officials at Nabanna said the amount that used to be levied was "negligible" and assessed on the basis of factors such as productivity of the plots and their proximity to resources such as irrigation facilities.
Mamata today accused the Centre of step-motherly attitude towards Bengal and the BJP of pursuing divisive politics.
Taking a cue from Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and the Congress, she alleged tampering of electronic voting machines by the BJP to ensure a sweep in the Assembly elections.
"We have to preserve the Constitution. The rakshak (protector) cannot be allowed to turn into bhakshak (oppresor).... I pray Ma Durga teaches a lesson to the Ravans who are harassing people and winning elections by with tampering EVMs," she said.
"The BJP cannot win elections by tampering with EVMs in Bengal. I believe there must be a thorough investigation into the issue," she added.
Attacking the Centre again for bringing down the interest on small savings schemes and pension of senior citizens, Mamata said she was ready to cooperate with Delhi, but not when it adopted "anti-people" policies.
"We will not be intimidated with threats. We believe in healthy politics.... Always crosscheck the information you see in social media. Do not believe in rumours," she said. "The BJP, the Congress, the CPM have all joined forces to remove Mamata Banerjee from power. Bid adieu to all three from Bengal."
Sources in Trinamul said today's meeting was essentially the launch of a focused campaign by Mamata to ensure that the party continued to dominate in Bengal - in line with what she had reportedly advised activists on Saturday.
A Trinamul MLA from south Bengal dubbed the waiver of agricultural land tax a "smart move" ahead of the panchayat polls, saying it was an issue that directly affected farmers who form a vast section of the rural electorate.
"Through these district tours, she would go about tightening all loose ends over the next few months," he said.