April 01, 2014

On the Road before E Day

Day 7: TMC set for its best ever show in North Bengal

One of the reasons the Trinamool Congress is confident of its best-ever showing in north Bengal in the coming Lok Sabha elections is the strong development record of the state government and the justice and fairness shown to the region. This was apparent as soon as Mamata Banerjee became the chief minister in 2011, when she set up a separate and full-fledged Department for North Bengal Development. In February this year, Uttar Kanya – the mini state secretariat in north Bengal – was inaugurated within 18 months of a decision being taken.

In this manner, key grievances of the people of north Bengal, pending for decades, were sorted out very quickly. What helped was personal presence – Mamata Banerjee has visited north Bengal 26 times since becoming chief minister. In contrast, the CPI(M) chief ministers had a very poor record and were not accessible to common citizens of the region. It was thanks to such close interaction that Mamatadi realised the need to set up the Dooars Task Force, within the broader ambit of the North Bengal Development Department. She has really gone down to the grassroots.

North Bengal has three principal complaints: distance from state institutions, which are located in Kolkata and south Bengal, jobs and education. How has the Trinamool government sought to address these?

Begin with distance from the big institutions of the state. Construction of the Circuit Bench of Kolkata High Court at Jalpaiguri is in its final phase. Next, all district hospitals in north Bengal are being seriously refurbished. With increased number of beds, facilities like SNSU and SNCU, MRI facilities, fair price medicine and diagnostic centres, the hospitals are being raised to the status of multi-super specialty hospitals. Patients who are very ill will no longer need to make the arduous journey to the other end of the state.

Darjeeling and Kurseong, among other places in north Bengal, have a strong network of schools, but higher education has been a problem. The Trinamool government has set up seven new government colleges in the region. A branch campus of the North Bengal University is being built in Jalpaiguri. Cooch Behar is host to a new university named after Panchanan Barma, the visionary Rajbanshi leader from the early 20th century.

Finally, there is the quest and for a better economy and for jobs in north Bengal, a hope that is still alive in the hills despite the neglect under the CPI(M). Mamatadi is focusing on tourism. The Lamahata Home Tourism facility is now functional. The Gazaldoba Tourist Hub was inaugurated about six months ago.

The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation has envisaged and begun work on a mega tourism hub in Banarhat, Jalpaiguri. It will incorporate a convention centre, five and three star resorts, a day centre for picnics, an amusement park, a budget resort, a crafts village, a hospitality management training institute and a youth hostel. When completed it will be a flagship tourism facility in not just north Bengal but in the entire east and northeast of India. It will complement the film city and film school coming up in Dabgram-Fulbari.

By all accounts, this is an impressive record for a government that has completed not even three years in office. As I end my trip to north Bengal and make my way to the plains, the Trinamool government's deep and honest engagement with the region leaves me with a sense of satisfaction. It makes me believe the voters of north Bengal will appreciate the effort and strengthen the Trinamool Congress.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress