KOLKATA: When Mamata Banerjee announced that Amit Mitra would contest for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the West Bengal Assembly elections, she added one of the most capable industry lobbyists into her coterie. Soon the writing was on the wall—the former secretary general of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry would be the state’s next Finance Minister.
‘Amit-da’, as Didi called him, would be seen everywhere with the TMC chief, almost an assertion from Banerjee that she could attract heavyweights from every walk of life. But eight months since the TMC-led government came to power, Mitra has receded into the shadows. His influential corporate connections are yet to bear fruit and bring in big industries. His own ministry is yet to receive a fresh lease of life with the Centre’s promised aid remaining an elusive dream. While West Bengal reels under a debt burden of Rs 1.92 lakh crore, the Centre had pledged Rs 21,614 crore as bail-out package, of which only Rs 8,750 crore was granted in December 2011. Mitra has also urged Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to give relief to the state in the upcoming Union budget. “We seek a grant from the Centre to cover the interest and repayment obligations of the state for a period of three years,” Mitra had said after state finance ministers met Mukherjee.
When Mitra discarded his corporate suits for the politician’s ‘kurta-pyjama’, it was always a matter of time to see whether he would fit into his new role. And now rumour mills are rife about Mitra wanting to take up a Delhi responsibility. Internally, the finance ministry hasn’t been doing too well. Prevented from taking proactive measures to hike and impose new taxes, thereby increasing internal tax generation, there looms an air of defeat in the ministry. Finance Secretary C M Bacchawat, who had been long seeking a transfer, has been replaced by Excise Secretary H K Dwivedi. Sources say that with empty coffers, senior IAS officers were shying away from taking up the crucial post. Didi’s populist announcements such as creating 2,75,000 jobs in seven months along with other sops have further landed the ministry in deeper trouble.
Whether Didi will part with her prized minister seems unlikely and in the meantime, Mitra is charting out his own plans to up the state’s dwindling finances. His pet project is to better tax collection by bringing in more people under the tax ambit. Mitra recently announced the simplification of way bills and a slew of e-governance initiatives. “Gradually, tax compliance will increase. The new online way bill will be simple. Now, a single document will replace the current two-part way bill. No physical document will be required from now. Hence, there will be no delay and chances of loss or misplacement will not take place,” said Mitra.