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    Default Mamata Banerjee demands interest moratorium on Bengal loa'nscould cost Centre Rs 22,000 cr

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    Enough is enough! Quite frankly, it's never "enough" when it comes to Mamata Banerjee's insatiable appetite for central concessions and packages even if she has to arm-twist her way through.

    The West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress boss - the most difficult partner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - has given the Centre a 15-day ultimatum to decide on her demand for a three-year moratorium on the interest for central loa'nsto the cash-strapped state.

    Calling the central debt burden of Rs 2 lakh crore a legacy she inherited from her predecessors, the Left Front government, she warned that any "indifferent attitude" on this deadline could become a "big issue".

    Often dubbed the albatross around the Centre's neck, Mamata has been repeatedly trying to corner Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government into submission for a moratorium on the interest, besides demanding a special financial package for the state.

    If the Centre, like it has done in the past, accedes to her whimsical demand, the national exchequer would lose Rs 22,000 crore per year.

    But Mamata argued that her state generates only Rs 21,000 crore in revenue and, hence, can't or won't pay the Rs 22,000 crore to the Centre.

    "How can I carry out development work, pay salaries and allow the people of Bengal to live if we have to pay more than what we earn? We are repeatedly urging the central government that we do not need its mercy, but then it should provide us at least a three-year interest moratorium," Mamata told a convention of bureaucrats in Kolkata on Saturday.

    "The Centre has also deducted Rs 1,500 crore from our share of central sales tax compensation. On the one hand, it is taking away Rs 22,000 crore as interest, and on the other it is deducting Rs 1,500 crore. It means the Centre is making the state government debt-ridden to ensure that it cannot function," she said.

    True to her style, Mamata warned: "I have met the PM and the finance minister (Pranab Mukherjee) several times. But till now we have not received any funds. But enough is enough. I have made repeated appeals, my patience is running out. I have waited for a year and I will wait for another 15 days, and then." She stopped short of revealing what happens after a fortnight.

    Her timing was immaculate. The Congress, which leads the UPA, is straining to pass the financial Bill in the Lok Sabha as the second leg of the Budget session begins on Tuesday.

    It was hence all but natural for the Congress to downplay Mamata's fresh threat.

    "If the West Bengal chief minister has certain issues, demands and aspirations, I am sure the central government will talk to her and see how the development imperatives of the state can be addressed under the constitutional framework," party spokesperson Manish Tewari said in New Delhi.

    The Trinamool with 19 members in the Lok Sabha and six in the Rajya Sabha is the second largest constituent of the ruling UPA-II. The Congress-Trinamool relationship has been on the rocks with Mamata thumbing down several policies of the central government.

    She has already been at loggerheads with the Centre on FDI in retail, setting up of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, giving policing powers to the BSF and the Teesta river water-sharing pact with Bangladesh. She even replaced party member Dinesh Trivedi with Mukul Roy as railway minister for the former's so-called pro-Congress Rail Budget.

    But the root of the discord has always been money. Mamata wanted a special package for the state and raised the issue at the national development council meeting last year. The Centre vetoed her demand saying it would open the Pandora's Box prompting other states to push for similar unviable demands.

    The Trinamool chief then changed her demand to a threeyear moratorium. Recently, she even requested Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to impress upon his "good friend" Manmohan Singh to announce the moratorium.

    When she was reminded that the Centre had agreed to give more funds to the state, Mamata said the central allocation was for backward area development. "Other states have also received similar funds," she said.

    Mamata, after she rode to power last year, made some fancy announcements such as to turn Kolkata into "London of the East". She is frustrated at not getting sufficient central funds to carry out these "key development projects" as she completes one year in office on May 20.

    With inputs from agencies


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