Home / India News / Cut money tag returns in garb of nepotism for TMC in Bengal’s Amphan-hit districts
Alleged nepotism by Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and workers involved in distribution of compensation in districts hit by Cyclone Amphan has revived the ghost of “cut money” or illegal commission they charged from beneficiaries of rural housing schemes in the past.
The allegations have led to clashes and protests with governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tweeting on Friday that the law and order situation in three districts was “worrisome”.
A majority of the people’s representatives in the cyclone-affected districts belong to the TMC. Villagers in around a dozen panchayat areas have alleged that the sum of Rs 20,000 that the state has sanctioned for repairing damaged houses is being given to people who are close to the ruling party and own houses that have suffered no damage. There are also allegations that people, many of whom are jobless migrant labourers, are not getting work under the MGNREGA projects.
After the cyclone, the state government told the visiting inter-ministerial central team that the quantum of damage caused by the cyclone stood at Rs 1.02 lakh crore. The state’s report said 28.6 lakh houses and 17 lakh hectares of farmland were damaged while damage done to dwellings stood at Rs 28,560 crore.
On Monday, a panchayat office and the home of a TMC leader were ransacked by the party’s supporters at Sagar in South 24 Parganas district and the office of the community block development officer (BDO) at Deganga in adjoining North 24 Parganas district was vandalized. Fifteen people, including some college students, were arrested in Deganga.
On Tuesday, there was unrest at Mathurapur in the South 24 Parganas and Nandakumar in East Midnapore. On Wednesday, BJP and TMC workers clashed at Bhagabanpore in East Midnapore district when the opposition party demanded scrutiny of the beneficiaries. On Thursday, there was a clash at Amdanga in North 24 Parganas.
On Friday morning, Dhankhar tweeted, “Protests @MamataOfficial over corruption, nepotism and politicization #Amphan relief distribution is rocking the state. Worrisome law and order scenario in East Midnapore, South and North 24 Parganas as BDO offices are being gheraoed.”
“Lip facade will not work. Officials @MamataOfficial must face consequences for such omission acts and abandonment of their work to political party. Officials must be booked for acts of omission and commission. Non entitled beneficiaries be penalized and benefit retrieved,” Dhankhar said in another tweet.
The incidents triggered a debate at the all-party meeting that chief minister Mamata Banerjee convened on June 24, primarily to discuss the Covid-19 crisis, said BJP, Left and Congress leaders who took part.
“Everybody should get compensation. Political background of people should not be considered. I request people not to vandalize officers of the BDOs. The administration will prepare the list of beneficiaries,” Banerjee said after the all-party meeting. The agitations, however, did not stop.
Opposition leaders said that at the meeting Banerjee told them that the unrest was a stray incident and there was no large-scale nepotism as alleged.
“According to our conservative estimate anything between Rs 250 and 300 crore has been distributed among people who are not entitled,” said BJP vice president Jay Prakash Majumdar who attended the all-party meet along with BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
To the opposition parties, the alleged corruption in cyclone-hit districts is just another avatar of the “cut money” scandal that rocked Bengal a year ago. It became one of the key issues in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition force, won 18 of the state’s 42 seats.
While addressing a TMC meeting on June 18 last year, Banerjee asked party leaders to return the “cut money” they took from people and exposed corrupt functionaries to public scrutiny. Her statement became a political weapon for the BJP which had just won 18 Lok Sabha seats even as the TMC claimed that 99.99 % of its leaders and workers were honest and that the CM’s warning was meant for just 0.01%.
Soon after this, ‘Didi ke Bolo’ (Tell Didi) a helpline planned by election strategist and Banerjee’s advisor Prasant Kishor to let people to reach out to the government with their grievances led to thousands of complaints against party leaders. Most of these were against panchayat and district leaders.
“TMC can never change its character no matter how loudly the chief minister may have claimed that there is no corruption in distribution of compensation. We have demanded an all-party monitoring committee,” said Congress state president Somen Mitra.
“This is the last opportunity for TMC workers to make money because they know the party will be out of power in 2021,” said Sujan Chakraborty, Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator and leader of the Left parties in the state assembly.
“The allegations have surfaced because the government allowed panchayat leaders to select beneficiaries. The job should have been done by the administration right from the beginning,” said Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay.
“Those who own brick and concrete houses cannot claim compensation. People who misrepresented facts will have to return the money,” a BDO in South 24 Parganas said on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the affected areas in Bengal and Odisha within 48 hours of the cyclone. He announced an initial grant of Rs 1,000 crore for relief and rehabilitation in Bengal and assured both states of more support after conducting separate aerial surveys with Mamata Banerjee and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.