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1 Jul 2018

Mamata set to embark on austerity drive

TT, Calcutta: The Mamata Banerjee government is giving finishing touches to the Trinamul regime's first austerity plan, reviving memories of a similar drive by the Left in its last few years in power.
The trigger for the plan is not the state's soaring debt but "feedback" that a perception is gaining ground about the government's "lavish spending", sources said. The measures are likely to be announced through an order soon.
"The chief minister will chair a meeting on July 5 to find out ways in which we can cut costs. We cannot slash items like capital expenditure or the expenses required to run offices. But some areas have been identified where costs can be trimmed," said a senior state government official.
That such a move was being considered became clear when the chief minister broached the issue at an extended core committee meeting of Trinamul in Calcutta on June 21. There, she had said that at every stage of governance, austerity measures would have to be adopted to mobilise resources so that development initiatives or dole-based schemes do not suffer.
"From civic bodies to panchayats, from the districts to the state government, it has to be done at every stage. I have already told the chief secretary and this will be ensured," Mamata had said at the meeting.
Austerity measures, announced through government orders, are not uncommon when revenues start lagging expenses. The steps usually include reduction in revenue expenditure by restricting recruitments, and cutting down on unproductive expenditure on heads like publicity and other activities.
"The trigger behind the plan is not the state's indebtedness, which is shooting through the roof. The steps are being initiated after the top brass of the government started receiving feedback that a perception about the Trinamul-led government's lavish spending was gaining ground," said a source.
Sources in Nabanna, the state secretariat, said the government was looking to tamp down spending on vehicles and air travel by officials. Lavish arrangements at government meetings, including district review meetings of the chief minister, could also be done away with, the sources said.
The restrictions can at best yield annual savings of Rs 500 crore, a source said. "This is paltry sum but the visual impact will be huge," said the source, before adding that the government was keen on addressing the "perception".
The perception is not misplaced, a top government official said, referring to a meeting one of the departments had organised at a hotel in Calcutta recently.
"The arrangements were unnecessarily lavish. Soon after the meeting, an order was issued prohibiting any kind of meetings in hotels. The government felt the expenditure was unnecessary as there are several state establishments to hold such meetings. Similarly, all other unnecessary expenditures would be curtailed," said an official.
Senior officials said the top brass wanted to rein in such expenses as these could tarnish the image of a government that claims to be pro-poor.
"Such impressions don't help the ruling party. It takes the party away from common people, particularly the rural poor. We can't take a chance after our party witnessed a debacle in Jungle Mahal and other tribal-dominated areas during the recently held panchayat polls," said a state minister.

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