In the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan that wrought havoc in West Bengal, the State Government had decided to compensate people with ₹20,000 who had suffered damage to their houses. But, now it has emerged that the amount has been credited to the bank accounts of several individuals in Nadia whose houses had remained unaffected by the cyclone, reports the Ananda Bazar Patrika. Many of them are politicians and Panchayat members, and reportedly associated with the ruling TMC.
As per the report, the owners of intact one-storey and multi-storey 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. A report was submitted in the Block alleging that 28 people had been victims of the catastrophe.
After the cyclone hit the state, CM Mamata Banerjee had announced that 5 lakh victims whose houses have been damaged will receive Rs 20,000 each from the government. The amount was directly transferred to the accounts of the beneficiaries.
However, it was found that 20 houses in the 28 did not suffer even the slightest damage, as they are pucca houses. Reportedly, the accused could siphon off money due to their connections with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). Local resident Narayan Haldar has 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 the report in Anand Bazaar Patrika.
Justification by the accused
Local panchayat member Somnath Adhikari, a businessman by profession and one of the beneficiaries of government compensation, said, “Sobkichu toh manusher er jonnoi. Tai sorkari taka ami niyachi (The compensation is for the people. That’s why I have taken the money.)” On being informed that the amount was disbursed for poor and affected people, he said, “Whoever gets the opportunity will take government’s money. There is nothing poor or rich about it.” Adhikari lives in a 2-storey building with 8 rooms which was not at all affected by the cyclone.
Another accused Pavitra Santra, a panchayat member in Mazdia’s Santrapara, also received compensation by taking undue advantage of the system. He too lives in a 2-storeyed house. His wife Mukul Santra confided, “Four tiles in the kitchen are broken. I will buy tile with ₹200. I will deposit the rest of the money in the bank.” On knowing that the questioner was a journalist, she confessed, “now it seems that we should not have taken the money. I thought of taking advantage of the situation since I have political power.”
The report cited many other beneficiaries not suffering any damage, who admitted that they had taken the government money while fully aware that it was for the victims of the Cyclone Amphan and they are not the intended beneficiaries.
BDO (Kalyani) Deep Chatterjee shrugged, “The investigation is underway. Nothing can be concluded until the report on it is prepared.” According to Rupali Saha, a district council member and a local resident, the misuse of public money had taken place under the watch of the panchayat. “Only the panchayat can give the answer,” she remarked, as per the report.
Reportedly, several people applied for government compensation by showing pictures of demolished houses belonging to the real victims of the catastrophe. On receiving multiple complaints, the Block officials are now conducting door-to-door verification. Kalyani Block Trinamool President Pankaj Kumar Singh, however, said, “I have also heard about the incident. I have spoken to the BDO. It should be investigated. People’s confidence must be restored. “
Relief work languishes in West Bengal
In the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, the simmering tensions among the disenchanted population against the Mamata Banerjee-led government’s inept handling of the relief activities crystallised on the streets as protest mounted against the state administration for its bungled response to the catastrophe. Several areas in the State saw angry protesters swarming the roads against the establishment. Protests were held in prominent areas, including Behala, New Alipore, Regent Park, and Jadavpur. People put up road blockades demanding restoration of power.
Speaking to ANI, a local resident of the Baghajatin area in Kolkata had informed, “It has been misreported in the media that the supply of electricity and water has been resumed in our area. But, for the last 6 days, we have neither electricity nor water.” Directing towards a lamp post lying unattended on the road, he conceded, “None has come to fix it.”