Kolkata: Come next week, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will rain sops on a large section - girls, youths, the unemployed – In a bid to further consolidate the ruling Trinamool Congress' base ahead of the 2014 general elections.
While critics are voicing concern about the drain on the exchequer of the debt-stressed state, as the projects entail expenditure of about Rs.1,200 crore annually, Banerjee feels the schemes would enable her reach the fruits of governance to the homes of lakhs of families in towns and villages across West Bengal.
The centre-piece of the chief minister's ambitious schemes is "Kanyashree" – in which the government would provide an annual scholarship of Rs.500 to girls between 13 and 18 years (class eight to class 12) to continue their studies, provided they are unmarried and their parents' annual income is below Rs 1.20 lakh.
However, the income restriction would not be applicable to those who are orphans or physically challenged.
If the girl continues her studies up to the age of 18, a one-time grant of Rs.25,000 would be deposited in her bank account, provided she is unmarried.
The scheme is set for a grand inauguration on Oct 1, when 10,000 girl students would be brought under its ambit. The government hopes to expand the scheme rapidly in the coming months.
The beneficiaries would be paid through direct bank transfers from the exchequer.
"This scheme will be irrespective of caste and community. If she continues her education, or vocational training, or studies in open school we will transfer Rs.25,000 as a one-time grant in her account," the chief minister said.
"The grant can be utilised for her higher studies or for her marriage," she added.
Officials say the chief minister's involvement with the scheme is so high that she herself christened it, designed the logo, and coined the slogan "Study and Smile".
The government has issued advertisements in both the electronic and print media to give the scheme wide publicity.
Banerjee herself recently flagged off the video campaign starring leading Bengali film celebrities like Prosenjit, Srabanti, Payel Sarkar and Subhoshree. The 45-second audio-visual is being repeatedly beamed on television channels, while the chief minister has posted it on her Facebook page.
"The scheme is expected to lower the dropout rate among girl students and reduce child marriage. Also, it will help the government track those girls who drop out despite being a beneficiary of the scheme and find out whether they have got involved in any immoral activity," said an officer.
As per initial estimates, the scheme would involve an annual expenditure of Rs.1,000 crore, which the government hopes to meet from the additional revenues it has generated by raising the Value Added Tax rate by one percent.
On Oct 3, the chief minister would launch another scheme, "Yuvashree", under which the state government aims to provide unemployment allowance of Rs.1,500 per month to 100,000 unemployed youth every month. The annual expense on the scheme would be Rs.180 crore.
On the inaugural day itself, cheques would be handed over to 12,000 youths.
The state labour department has already selected 100,000 unemployed youths who have passed at least class VIII and are in the age group of 18 to 45 years.
The beneficiaries have been chosen from those who have registered their names in the employment bank portal earlier floated by Banerjee.
The youths would be required to use the allowances for vocational or other training that will make them fit for employment.