In Rajya Sabha, echoes of Bengal elections as TMC takes on govt, Sitharaman hits back

Derek O'Brien, TMC leader in the Upper House, began his speech in the discussion on the Finance Bill by raising the comments made by West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh at a rally in the state.

With the West Bengal Assembly election beginning in three days, there were echoes of it in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, with Trinamool Congress MPs taking on the Centre, and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman responding by alleging that the TMC had prevented the state’s farmers from getting the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi.

Derek O’Brien, TMC leader in the Upper House, began his speech in the discussion on the Finance Bill by raising the comments made by West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh at a rally in the state. “A most distasteful statement was made about a woman, saying that she should not wear a saree anymore but wear Bermuda shorts. This is not acceptable in politics. This was said by an MP and the state President of the BJP. We condemn this,” he said.

Attacking the “anti-federalism” government, O’Brien said that there were earlier 66 centrally sponsored schemes, which is now down to 28. “That is a big reduction. Central share for giving to state schemes, was earlier 75 percent. Now the Centre is giving 60 percent. States instead of paying 25 percent for these schemes are now having to pay 40 percent. Shouldn’t states also get the benefit of this devolution?”

Referring to cess on petrol and diesel, O’Brien said, “62 percent cess on petrol, 69 percent on diesel. My limited point is that this is not tax. There is a basic difference between cess and tax. In a cess, the entire amount goes to the central government. Fifteen years ago, cess collection of gross revenue was 2 percent. In this government, cess is now 15,16 percent.”

O Brien also said that under the Narendra Modi government, CAG reports were down by “75 percent”, and said that it was “bad, poor, pathetic governance” when “56 percent of the Beti Bachao scheme was spent on advertising.”

He said, “GST collection from my state was Rs 12,000 crore in 2017-18. Now GST collection is doubled to Rs 28,000 crore. But tax devolution which was coming to Bengal has come down from Rs 49,000 crore to Rs 48,000 crore. So this is hocus-pocus, which is anti federalism.”

O’Brien ended his speech with “Khela Hobe”, the TMC’s slogan for Bengal elections.

TMC MPs Dola Sen, Arpita Ghosh and Shantanu Sen also addressed the House and took on the government on various issues. While Sen interspersed her speech with chants of “lajja” (shame), and said that the Centre had not even given West Bengal money it owes for midday meals, Ghosh said the state had found no space in the Railway budget, and that some projects had been shut, and raised the issue of farmers protesting at the borders. All three leaders spoke in Bangla.

In her reply, Sitharaman said, “Bengal mein kisaan ka haq maara gaya (rights of farmers in Bengal have been killed), drawing loud sloganeering from TMC members. She said, “When my Budget speech was given on February1, when members asked me why I brought down Rs 10,000 crore allocation for agriculture, I had to explain. If they (West Bengal) didn’t refuse, it’s good news for me. But for the time the Budget had to be presented, farmers’ list hadn’t come to the Central government. If the list had come, Bengal’s poor farmer would have received money which is for PM Kisaan Samman Nidhi. It hadn’t come, it wasn’t given to the farmers.”

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