With the West Bengal elections now months away, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced generous gifts for the state's working class as well as neighbourhood clubs who organise Durga Puja celebrations for communities.
Some 37,000 clubs will get Rs 50,000 each - up from Rs 25,000 last year. They will also get a 50 per cent discount on electricity expenses and will be exempt from fire brigade fees and taxes to the municipal corporations.
"Due to the COVID pandemic, it has been a tough time for all of us. We have decided to provide Rs 50,000 grant to each Durga Puja committee of the state. We have also decided that CESC and the state electricity board will give 50 per cent waiver for the puja committees," she said addressing the Durga Puja Coordination meeting in Kolkata.
Durga Puja is the biggest festival in West Bengal that sees celebrations spread over multiple days. Pujas organised in large tents or "pandals" by community clubs form a major part of the celebrations.
Ms Banerjee asked the committees to prepare open-air marquees in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that visitors wear masks.
She also announced moves to help some of the poorest sections of society hit by the coronavirus crisis.
Around 81,000 hawkers in the state will each get Rs 2,000 as a Puja gift.
Frontline healthcare workers known as Asha, COVID-19 volunteers and members of the Civic Police Volunteer Force (CPVF), popularly known as Green Police will get a Rs 1,000 pay hike starting next month.
Anganwadi workers, who manage a network of rural child care centres, will get a retirement benefit of Rs 3 lakh.
Mamata Banerjee's moves are expected to find favour with the vast swathe of beneficiaries but stoke concerns about fiscal prudence amid the still unravelling economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis in the cash-strapped state.
To a degree, her handouts to the Durga Puja clubs are also expected to blunt attacks by the BJP that has tried to paint the Trinamool Congress as discriminatory against Hindus while following a policy of appeasing to the Muslims.
Separately, the West Bengal cabinet on Thursday also cleared the "Rajya Purohit Kalyan Prokolpo", a scheme under which a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 and free housing would be allotted to each of around 8,000 Hindu Brahmin priests.