The Marxist rulers of West Bengal have done it again. The comrades have rejected out of hand a loan of Rs 3,400 crore from the World Bank to build essential services and improve the quality of life of the really poor. All because the Bank had suggested an independent survey of the state's finances to be certain of the borrower's repayment capacity. The fallout: sanitation and piped water and housing projects in many municipal areas in the state remain on paper. Additional buildings for the grossly overcrowded and unhygienic hospitals and a 900-km expressway connecting the state with national highways face the same fate. While shelving the first two projects will have considerable human costs, the delay in the expressway, for which a French company has completed a survey of the state's roads, will deal a body blow to West Bengal's efforts to improve its potholed roads which are a major dampener to fresh investments in the state. It is estimated that West Bengal suffers from an opportunity loss of over Rs 1,500 crore every year due to road congestion and lack of adequate parking at the land port of Petropole.
Apart from the World Bank's suggestion for a survey, what made the Marxists see red was the donor's additional suggestion that the state take some economic measures, like better tax collection, reduction of subsidies and restructuring of the bloated workforce, to improve its economic health. All these steps were aimed at reducing the ever-widening gap between the state's income and expenditure. But these suggestions were anathema to chief minister Jyoti Basu and his comrade, finance minister Asim Dasgupta. Basu dismissed the World Bank's proposal as 'an insolent demand (mamabarir adbar)'. Others, however, feel that not agreeing to the survey proposed by the World Bank is much more so. Dasgupta added: 'The World Bank may only examine published documents, such as the budget papers, but will not be allowed to tinker with the Left Front government's policies.'