The growth of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the cost of the Left Front and the Congress continues unabated in West Bengal. While TMC’s seat share went up to 66% in the 2018 Bengal panchayat elections from 52% in 2013, the BJP’s share grew by 17% at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level in the three-tier rural polls. The seat share at the GP level provides a very clear picture of the political scene in rural Bengal where 74% of the State’s electorate reside. A similar trend was noticed in nearly all the recent elections and by-polls.The saffron party got a little over 1% seats in 2013 at the GP level. In this week’s panchayat elections, the BJP bagged more than 18% seats in an election process marred by violence. Even after the Opposition could not field a candidate in about one-third of the seats, the BJP’s vote share increased significantly. On the other hand, the Left Front’s seat share dropped noticeably.The Left Front got marginally over 32% seats in the panchayat polls of 2013 at the GP level, which was nearly a 20% drop from that in 2008. In 2018, the seat share has reached its nadir. The Left Front got 5% seats, according to the data released by the State Election Commission [SEC] on Friday night. The Congress’s seat share has come down to 3% from 11%.Infact, the seat share of the Independent candidates was more than the Left Front or the Congress at the GP level. The reason, as it appeared on Friday, is that the Independent candidates, who belong to the one or the other factions of the ruling party in most of the cases, have won in many seats defeating the “official” TMC candidate. Realising that many of the Independent candidates are affiliated to the TMC, party chief Mamata Banerjee indicated on Thursday that they will eventually be brought back to the party fold. However, Independent candidates defeating the Left and the Congress has been described as “a unique development” in Bengal politics.While BJP got 12% and 3.5% seats at the Panchayat Samity (PS) and Zilla Parishad (ZP) level respectively, the Left Front got 2% and less than 1% at the PS and ZP levels. The Congress, too, has nearly been decimated at PS and ZP level.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter Member of Parliament for North West St. Ann, Dr. Dayton Campbell, is recommending that adjustments be made to the Student Loan Bureau (SLB) to focus on areas of study that are critical to nation development.“I believe the SLB should first concern itself with making loans available to persons pursuing tertiary studies in areas…such as Mathematics, Pharmacy, Engineering, the Sciences,” he stated.Dr. Campbell was opening the debate on a private members motion on funding for tertiary education, on June 11 in the House of Representatives.He stated that new programmes should be assessed for relevance, in terms of whether they “respond to labour market needs, foster innovation or serve community aspirations, before approval”.Dr. Campbell said that while he is not suggesting that persons pursuing degrees that are “oversubscribed” or those with “a low employment potential” should be denied tertiary education, the SLB’s limited resources should be directed to those areas which are of strategic importance to the country, and at lower interest rates.These rates, he noted further, “should be inversely proportionate to the need of the area for national development thus the higher the need the lower the interest rate”.According to Dr. Campbell, the country is in need of Mathematics and Science teachers and in order to increase enrolment in these areas, students should get incentives to pursue these subjects at the tertiary level.“I want to take it a step further and propose that no income tax be collected for the first three years of employment for Mathematics and Science teachers, who needed state financing to complete their studies. This portion would instead go straight to the Bureau as a part of their repayment,” Dr. Campbell said.He also proposed the establishment of an income-contingency repayment plan, which would base the monthly loan repayments on the salaries of borrowers. He noted that such a loansystem addresses risk and uncertainty faced by individuals by providing insurance against inability to repay and improves progressiveness by providing a lower public subsidy for graduates that obtain higher private returns.Demand for student loans has increased over the last six years, moving from 6,600 persons in 2007 to 16,600 in 2012, and is projected to swell to over 20,000 persons for the upcoming academic year.The growth in demand, coupled with the annual increase in tuition costs, has significantly increased the pressure on the limited resources of the SLB to provide loans, which is estimated to reach $20 billion in the 2015/16 financial year.For the 2013/14 academic year, approximately $4.9 billion is required to fully cover the projected demand, which will be financed by the Education Tax and loan inflows from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).On March 19, the House of Representatives approved a Government guarantee of a US$20 million loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to the SLB.