Mamata defends high salaries to intellectuals in rail panels

November 23rd, 2009 - 1:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, Nov 23 (IANS) Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has defended her decision to rope in intellectuals and theatre personalities into railway committees and their so-called hefty salaries that have come under criticism from the ruling Left Front in West Bengal.
“I am the railway minister. It is my discretion…I am not going to draft (chief minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee…Or those corrupt ministers of the LF (Left Front),” Banerjee told Bengali news channel Star Ananda during an interview Sunday night.

Her decision to appoint intellectuals like theatre personality Saonli Mitra, who has been appointed head of the railway heritage and culture committee, and pay a Rs.50,000 monthly salary to them has drawn flak.

Bengali daily Ganashakti, the state’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) mouthpiece, had been critical of the salary and perks fixed for Mitra, as also other committee members like theatre personalities Bivas Chakraorty and Arpita Ghosh, poet Joy Goswami, classical vocalist Rashid Khan and film director Rituparno Ghosh.

The perks include executive class air fare for visiting states, a special allowance of Rs.520 for holding meetings, transport allowance and dearness allowance in the rates payable to railways officers, cars, telephone facilities with STD and medical facilities.

Banerjee said she did not consider all Leftists bad and had taken in several people who were Left-leaning in their views.

“This is in accordance with government rules and system. Because they are giving time to the government, the government has to pay them,” she said.

“They are not greedy for money. In fact Saonli Mitra told me she did not have the time for carrying out the functions of the committee chairman. She also told me she will not take money. But I persuaded her after a lot of effort,” Banerjee said.

“Whatever I have done is right. I will include more such artists and intellectuals. I want to involve all sections of society in government work. I want to take policy decisions based on inputs from them,” she added.

She also said that raising questions about their work and pay was “tantamount to character assassination of these intellectuals”.

Questions were also raised about a majority of the committee members being from West Bengal. For instance, eight of the nine members of the heritage and culture committee are from the state. Sangeet Natak Akademi Chairman and Manipur stalwart Ratan Thiyam is the only one from outside the state.

However, Banerjee strongly defended her stand. “I am from West Bengal. So definitely, I will want to use the intellect we have in the state. I am proud of the culture and tradition of this state. The CPI-M has no respect for the state’s culture and heritage. So it is raising queries.”

Saonli Mitra expressed surprise over the hue and cry raised on the salary.

“Surely, taking a salary of Rs.50,000 is not a crime. I am not committing fraud or treason…I am only being paid for my services,” said Mitra, daughter of legendary theatre personalities Sambhu and Tripti Mitra.

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