A teenaged boy was injured in an explosion in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district on Sunday.
Shashi Panja is the minister for Industries, Commerce & Enterprises and the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare of the Government of West Bengal. Panja, a medical practitioner, is also the daughter-in-law of Ajit Panja who served in the central government as a cabinet minister. The Statesman’s Chandrani Banerjee spoke to her.
Q: Is Bengal the first state to start the Transgender Development Board? And how does it function?
A: Tamil Nadu has a Transgender Welfare Board but we believe in the inclusiveness of the whole concept. Therefore, it is not welfare but development. We have transgender people who have specific roles on the board. To create reach in every district we have created district-level committees. Our statelevel team has been coordinating at the district level and helping each transgender person to deal with the basic problems to live a decent life.
There are several issues that they have to deal with. The government through the development board is trying to put them into the mainstream. It is not an easy task. The first step is always difficult. We have taken that first step. We have been issuing ICards to the people who voluntarily come forward and declare that they are transgender. See, they have issues with identity, gender, jobs, and hospitals. Even moving around freely is an issue. So we are helping them with all of it. They want to go to the government hospitals and access the facilities. So we are working on this too.
Q: What is this controversy surrounding MGNREGA non-payments? The Centre has been claiming that audit reports are required which have not been provided by the state.
A: Well, the controversy is politically motivated. They claim that there are irregularities in the MGNREGA schemes. Fair enough. About 160 central teams have visited the state. They worked on the records and the documents were in place. So why are they making noise now? There were gaps and the moment those were pointed out, action was taken.
There are several categories where performance is recognised with rewards. The first category is the creation of assets, the second is the creation of self-help groups, third is the generation of work per person per day. Let me tell you that West Bengal received the rewards.
Another allegation is that there are fake job cards with fake identities. We have made maximum Aadhaar linkages. In Uttar Pradesh about 44 lakhs fake job cards were identified while in West Bengal it is only 22 lakh. In Madhya Pradesh also, fake job cards were higher in number than in West Bengal. Yet, funds have not been blocked in these two BJP-ruled states. West Bengal has been singled out for non-release of funds. And the entire allocation of Rs 7,000 crore for the Rs 8,400 crore housing projects has been blocked. And how is this impacting the labour force? They are migrating to different places.
Q: How is the state planning to help the investors in terms of easing business?
A: We have been working on the single window clearance system apart from other possible facilities. There is a comprehensive package that we are working on to offer interested investors so that there are no hiccups for them to function. This includes helping them with a system to provide a skilled and semi-skilled workforce. We will also ensure that there is least amount of interference. So the state is working towards a friendly business environment for the investors. We want them to come to the state and invest.
Q: How is the government is planning to attract investors in the state?
A: There is a flagship investor summit that will happen every November. Apart from that I just mentioned that the state is working on a comprehensive plan. This plan is to help the investors to function in the state without any problems. The aim is to help them operate with as little paperwork and non-interference as possible.
Q: Is there any plan by the government to support the start-ups?
A: The government has no plans to support the start-ups as of now. But the investors summit is about to happen. Probably we may plan something.
Q: Any plans to develop other cities in West Bengal and turn them into smart cities?
A: Our chief minister always believes in decentralization. She went to different cities and even to districts and held meetings there. The aim is to integrate the whole state and look at the state as a whole. So there is a complete plan for the smart cities and that is going to happen. We have to do another sitting for the smart cities of the state.