In the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan that wrought havoc in West Bengal, the State Government had decided to compensate 5 lac people with ₹20,000 who had suffered damage to their houses. However, allegations of corruption and misappropriation of disaster relief funds have surfaced in recent times, thus leaving the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee irked over the conduct of administrative and panchayat officials.
According to a report by Ananda Bazaar Patrika, about 2,000 complaints had been filed by the Chief Minister with respect to the disbursement of funds for relief work. CM Mamata Banerjee informed Chief Secretary Rajiv Singh that she had received the said complaints through her sources and directed him to look into every allegation and take appropriate action. The report said that a majority of complaints were about the distribution of funds for farmers and house reconstruction.
As per the report, several people had received the sum of ₹20,000 despite having pucca houses or not being affected by Cyclone Amphan. Reportedly, several relatives of panchayat officials had also received compensation. The disparity had been such that while several people had received funds in one particular neighbourhood, none got in the adjoining neighbourhood.
Reportedly, the State Chief Minister had also learnt about the ‘partiality’ displayed by officials in reconnecting power lines in several areas. The government officials had also informed that all complaints received by Prashant Kishore’s organisation, regarding the distribution of relief funds, had been communicated to Mamata Banerjee.
However, government officials had claimed that the people who have been benefited by the relief funds outnumber the complaints received by them. They stated that a total of 8,500 crores had already been disbursed and errors in names, account numbers or IFSC codes were to be blamed for beneficiaries not receiving their due share.
Ananda Bazaar Patrika reported that around 40% of the funds did not reach the beneficiaries in the first phase but it was fixed later. A committee was formed for selecting the list of beneficiaries in consultation with Block Development Officers and people’s representatives. The amount of ₹20,000 was disbursed in accordance with the list provided by the Finance Ministry.
TMC Gram Pradhan suspended
Recently, Narendranath Singh who served as a five-time pradhan of Chanditala II block in Hoogly was reportedly expelled from the Trinamool Congress on charges of corruption in the distribution of relief funds. As per the Telegraph report, Singh had submitted a list of 166 people who were to receive the assured sum of ₹20,000.
However, the Pradhan had listed his phone number against 119 names, besides including his wife as one of the beneficiaries. In his defence, Singh said that the reason behind putting his phone number against the names of beneficiaries was that they did not have mobile phones.
“It is shocking to see that he used his own mobile number for 119 beneficiaries that included his wife. None of those had suffered any damage in Amphan. Local party workers had cautioned him, but he refused to listen. It was only after MP Kalyan Banerjee intervened that the top leadership came to know of this,” a Trinamool leader was quoted as saying. A probe was also conducted into the matter and the allegations of financial irregularities were found to be true.
When the Hooghly unit of TMC had asked him to resign, he refused to budge. As such, he was formally ousted from the party by the General Secretary Partha Chatterjee on Friday. According to reports, the Trinamool Congress had been cautious that the damage caused to the party, following corruption allegations, could hurt its prospects in the Assembly elections that are scheduled to held in 2021.
Allegations against other TMC leaders
Earlier, Minister Rajib Banerjee also reiterated that corruption by a few TMC leaders could severely affect the poll results. Earlier, a Trinamool leader in East Midnapore, Somnath Bera, had resigned after allegations of misappropriation of funds had surfaced against him. Bera submitted his resignation letter to the district president on the same day. However, Somnath has said that he was stepping down for personal reasons.
The State BJP had alleged that Rupam Bhava, TMC leader and a member of Gram panchayat in Dadpur village, had pocketed the relief fund, meant for victims of Cyclone Amphan, by submitting fake documents of about 20 beneficiaries. According to the report by ABP Ananda, the accused had listed his sister, mother, and neighbours as beneficiaries. In his defence, the TMC MP claimed that he did so to help a person who had recently met with an accident.
Show-cause notice to accused BDOs
According to the report by Ananda Bazaar Patrika, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has reiterated that corruption in the distribution of relief funds would not be tolerated. About 5-6 Block Development Officers (BDOs) from Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, and South 24 Parganas have been handed show-cause notices, following complaints of misappropriation of funds.
If the response to the show-cause notice turned out to be unsatisfactory, then, stringent action would be taken against the said officials. Citing sources, Ananda Bazaar Patrika reported that Mamata Banerjee was herself looking into the issue of corruption in the distribution of relief funds.
Mamata Banerjee on June 6 had warned her party workers against ‘politicising relief work. She had reiterated that relief funds for both Coronavirus and Cyclone Amphan must reach all victims irrespective of party colours. Besides warning of dire consequences if found involved in corruption, West Bengal Chief Minister had advised the party leaders not to get involved in relief work and leave it to the administration.
Affluent people received government compensation
Earlier, it was reported that the owners of intact one-story and multi-story concrete houses in Madanpur II Gram Panchayat of Kalyani block in Nadia had received money by falsely claiming that they were the victims of Cyclone Amphan. It was found that 20 houses in the 28 did not suffer even the slightest damage, as they are pucca houses.
Local resident Narayan Haldar had lodged an official complaint with the Block Development Officer (BDO) Deep Chatterjee and the sub-divisional magistrate regarding this issue. “I was shocked to see the list of beneficiaries. They are highly accomplished people. All of them have pucca houses. It is a serious case of corruption,” Haldar was quoted as saying in media reports. Shockingly, TMC leader and Local panchayat member Somnath Adhikari, who too had received compensation for his undamaged house, had justified the same by saying that “whoever gets the opportunity will take government’s money. There is nothing poor or rich about it.”
Several other people had justified getting compensation despite suffering no loss due to the cyclone, and the complainant had accused that all of them are close to the ruling party.