On December 1st, the Calcutta High Court directed the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to audit the distribution of relief to those affected by the Amphan Cyclone in West Bengal. Responding to a number of petitions alleging large scale irregularities and corruption in the distribution of relief money funded by the central govt, the High Court made the CAG a party to the writ petitions, so that it can comprehensively carry out the order of the court.
The order issued by a bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee said that in the wake of various suffering of the people in West Bengal as a result of Cyclone Amphan, the central govt had rolled out schemes, along with similar schemes in other states impacted by the cyclone. The complaints of the different petitioners are that the State Government through its officers had made unauthorized and illegitimate pick and choose of persons to whom the benefits were doled out and that the Amphan schemes were not operated in the manner as envisaged either by the Union of India or the State Government, the order states.
It further notes that petitioners have contended that there is no transparency in the so-called distribution of Amphan relief and there is no material available in the public domain in terms of the provisions of the Right to Information Act or otherwise, which would enable the citizenry to access information regarding the identity of the persons to whom such benefits have been provided. As a result of the same, a large number of people, who were true and real victims of Amphan, have suffered also the loss of support by way of relief schemes.
The petitioners also had alleged that the list of Amphan relief beneficiaries shown on the website of the State Government does not reflect the true state of affairs.
The High Court said that CAG has the necessary constitutional, statutory and administrative sanction, power and authority to conduct such inquiry as is necessary to ensure that there is financial audit and performance audit of the utilization of the Amphan relief fund. The Calcutta High Court asked the CAG to complete the probe within 3 months.
However, the probe by CAG will not stop the state government or any other agency to continue with distribution of Cyclone Amphan relief.
It may be noted that in June this year, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee was forced to order a probe after allegations of large-scale corruption by TMC leaders in cyclone Amphan distribution had emerged. The state govt had decided to provide ₹20,000 each to 5 lakh people who had suffered damage to their houses due to the cyclone, but soon, more than 2000 complaints were filed with the CM alleging corruption.
Several TMC gram panchayat members and their relatives who own pucca houses and didn’t suffer any damage had received the relief, while genuine victims didn’t receive the same. Amazingly, some TMC leaders had actually justified getting money despite not suffering any damage, saying that the relief is meant for distribution among citizens, and that’s why they had also availed the same.
Following the allegations, the state govt had ordered a probe. But the fact that High Court has asked the CAG to probe the matter indicates that the state govt ordered probe didn’t yield any result.