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Bengal to Include 1 Crore Extra People in Health Scheme

The Mamata Banerjee government has opted out of a central scheme to pay doles to farmers and decided to extend the ambit of the state’s health plan to include around 1 crore more beneficiaries. The twin decisions show the ruling party in Bengal will not give the BJP a chance to offer doles to people in the state before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Sources at Nabanna said the scope of the Swasthya Sathi scheme launched by the Bengal government was widened as the state had withdrawn from the Center’s Ayushman Bharat. “Swasthya Sathi — a health insurance scheme for unorganised sector — will now be extended to nearly 1 crore financially weak people, who were included in the list of Ayushman Bharat, a similar scheme launched by the Center,” said a senior government official. Swasthya Sathi is a solely state-sponsored health insurance scheme under which a beneficiary can claim Rs 1.5 lakh in case of common illness and Rs 5 lakh for serious illness. A total of three crore beneficiaries from the unorganised sectors like civic volunteers, film technicians, sportsmen and casual workers were included in the scheme. The Narendra Modi government’s Ayushman Bharat is a similar scheme. It had been decided that all beneficiaries of Swasthya Sathi would be brought under the central plan, besides another 1 crore poor people. After the state withdrew from the central scheme, fate of 1 crore beneficiaries was hanging in balance.

The state has also decided to opt out of PM Kisan (Kisan Samman Nidhi), which offered Rs 6,000 annually to farmers with less than two acres. In Bengal, primary estimates suggest around 40 lakh farmers could have qualified for the central doles even though the state launched a similar scheme of giving Rs 5,000 for an acre annually to nearly 72 lakh farmers. Sources at Nabanna said the top brass of the government made it clear that as the state could offer similar facilities for the people of Bengal, there was no need to participate in central schemes. “It seems the chief minister does not want the BJP to offer benefits to people in Bengal ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The ruling party in Bengal has reaped benefits of creating beneficiaries with a series of such programs since assuming power in 2011,” a bureaucrat said. But the decisions to pull out of the central schemes will strain the state exchequer, an officer said. According to him, the state will have to shoulder a burden of additional Rs 250 crore to include 1 crore additional beneficiaries in the Swasthya Sathi scheme over and above Rs 750 crore that it had planned to pay as premium for three crore people. “As the state opted out of the central scheme, it had to shoulder the burden of 1 crore beneficiaries, who could have included in the central scheme, to avoid uncomfortable questions from them,” said a health department official.

The sources apprehended that struggling state coffers could have to shoulder another burden after the state government decided to opt out of the PM-Kisan scheme. “It is emerging that nearly 40 lakh poor farmers could have been benefited from the central scheme as there is no bar on receiving grant from both the schemes. I won’t be surprised if compensatory package is announced for those who missed out on the benefits of the central scheme,” said an official. The sources said the battle of reaching out to people with doles between the state and the Center could lead to stress on the Center-state relationship in future. “If the Center wants to reach out to poor farmers, it could do so by collecting details of those who took loans from banks and transfer money directly to their accounts,” said a Nabanna official. “If this happens, the relationship between the state and the center will be strained further as the state cannot prevent the transfer,” added the official. “The problem Bengal could face in future is that the Center starts planning development projects keeping Bengal out of consideration citing it did not extend cooperation in similar schemes in the past. It is better that the state reconsiders its decisions.” – Telegraph India

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