Calcutta, March 28: The Mamata Banerjee government has increased to Rs 600 from Rs 400 the monthly pension for widows, the aged and the disabled living below the poverty line, accepting a central proposal.
Senior state panchayat department officials said the Centre had sent the proposal in November but it was accepted only now because the panchayat polls are round the corner.
The pension amount is shared by the Bengal government and the Centre on a 50-50 basis.
Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee today confirmed that the state government had agreed to the hike. The minister also said “the beneficiaries would get the arrears from October last year”, another central government proposal.
Asked why the state government took four months to implement the proposal, a senior panchayat department official cited two reasons.
“At that time, the state government did not take any initiative to implement the enhanced pension rate because it was going through a financial crisis. But the panchayat polls are approaching now. So the government has hurriedly agreed to shoulder the additional burden even though the financial situation has not changed much,” the official said.
The increased pension will be paid from April.
According to an estimate of the panchayat and rural development department, the state will have to shell out an additional Rs 19 crore after the pension hike.
“When the pension was Rs 400, the state government used to spend Rs 38 crore a month for the 19 lakh beneficiaries under the scheme,” another official said.
“But now with the amount going up to Rs 600, the government will have to fork out Rs 57 crore a month. In November, the state finance department had not approved the hike,” the official added.
A minister said the increased pension was not aimed at wooing the electorate in the run-up to the panchayat elections.
“The notification to increase the amount was issued on March 12. Actually, we implemented the hike as soon as we could arrange for the required funds. We will not deprive the beneficiaries as they will get the arrears from October last year,” the minister said.