Mamata set to complete one year in office

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee completes a year in office on May 20 saddled with a debt burden of over Rs two lakh crore, a not too happy relationship with ally Congress and criticism on handling of some issues.

Speaking about the achievements of her government, Banerjee told PTI: "We have been working with devotion, dedication, accountability and transparency. Whatever I do I take it as a challenge."

Banerjee, who coined the `Ma, Mati Manush` (mother, land, people) to oust the Marxists from the state, said. "I want my partymen to emulate my example."

The first task that Banerjee had to grapple with was the inheritance of a debt of more than Rs two lakh crore from the erstwhile Left Front government which her Trinamool Congress routed after over three decades.

Banerjee has sought to set the situation right by demanding from the Centre a three-year moratorium on the Central loan interest payment and debt restructuring. To this end, she has held several rounds of meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

It is not, however, clear what the Centre will do on her financial demand. Banerjee, however, did not make her alliance partner Congress happy by steadfastly opposing FDI in retail, the pension bill, hike in petrol prices, her reservations on the Teesta water treaty and more recently the NCTC.

Within two months after taking office on May 20, Banerjee was able to broker the tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Agreement which was signed on July 18 at Darjeeling.

The GTA, which replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in 1988, offered maximum possible autonomy to the hills under the central and state laws and Banerjee promised a package for the hills to push it on the road of development.

The high point in a year`s rule was Time Magazine bracketing her with among others, US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also personally met her recently and expressed interest about US investments in the state.

The other highpoint in the early days of Trinamool Congress rule was tackling the Maoist problem in junglemahal comprising West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.

Top Maoist leader Kishenji was killed on November 24 last year, while dreaded women leaders Jagori Baskey and Suchitra Mahato surrendered to the chief minister.

Her government, however, faced severe criticism on several fronts, including a controversial government order on newspapers that government-run libraries were allowed to keep and more recently the arrest of a professor for forwarding a cartoon by email and the arrest of a scientist for taking part in an anti-eviction drive, besides her remarks on the Park Street rape case.

"I never boasted of solving all the problems in one year. But I dislike the motivated campaign of lies," the chief minister said in her defence. Banerjee has also had to battle to attract investment, though remaining inflexible about land and anti-SEZ policies while making it clear that her government was not going to give SEZ status to Infosys.

Jnanpith award-winning writer Mahasweta Devi, who supported Banerjee during her days of agitation, however said, "If the new government has performed so well in the first year, it is the people who will judge whether there has been a real change in their lives."

Industrialists were more charitable towards the new government. Harsh Neotia, chairman of the Ambuja Realty Group said "The government has shown urgency and energy to push for peace in junglemahal and Darjeeling. This will create a positive climate for development". He also said it was positive that the new government has made certain laws to hold land in excess of ceiling limit for approved industrial projects.

Sanjiv Goenka, the chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group said "It is a good year. We are committed to invest in the state." Asked whether the state government`s land policy would be a hindrance for investment, he told PTI from the US, "You cannot see one specific thing that way. You have to see the whole package. I will invest in West Bengal."

While conceding that a year was too little to judge the new government, WBPCC president Pradip Bhattacherjee said, "The high hopes and expectation that were aroused after the political change effected last year has started evaporating. The Congress as an alliance partner is not being given sufficient importance. We don`t feel that we are working as an ally."

Veteran Left Front and former PWD minister Kshiti Goswami leader belonging to the RSP said "Mamata Banerjee has the intention to do something good for the state. She has the passion, she has the commitment. "People generally love her and still regard her as the girl next door though she has incurred their anger on certain issues. We (The Left Front) have lost the confidence of the people and we have a long way to go before we come back," he said.