Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Amphan Relief Scam is beginning to deluge Mamata’s TMC in Bengal

The Amphan relief fund scam is beginning to deluge the Mamata Banerjee’s TMC government in West Bengal which could have a bigger impact than the one state experienced after the Super Cyclone’s landfall on May 18.

West Bengal was the epicentre of Amphan Cyclone’s fury on May 20, the sustained winds blowing up to a speed of 155km/h, and reserving its worst for East Midnapur, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Hooghly and Howrah. In this worst cyclone to hit the state in a decade, 86 people lost their lives and the damage was estimated by the state government to the tune of Rs 1 trillion (US$13.2 billion). The TMC government also claimed it affected 70 percent of the state’s population.  

Prime minister Narendra Modi, who conducted aerial visit of the cyclone-hit regions within a day of its impact, announced an interim advance relief of Rs 1,000 crores to the state. “Rs 2 lakh would be given to the next to kin of the persons deceased and Rs 50,000 each to the persons who got seriously injured…” Modi had said.

Since then, the Indian Express in an extensive visit to villages of Howrah, North 24 Parganas, East Midnapore, South 24 Parganas and Sundarbans has found out that bogus beneficiary claims have been cleared while those families in genuine distress are languishing.

As per the Indian Express, most of these beneficiaries belong to the TMC party which controls the Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads. As per the newspaper, approval for compensation has come even “if there’s no damage to their homes…” It has quoted a solitary case of a BJP and a CPI-M misappropriation too.

As per the Express, the date by the first week of June indicated the state government had released Rs 6250 crores as relief. As much as Rs 2,400 crore was released for house-building assistance to nearly 5 lakh beneficiaries. Rs 300 crore went for farmers’ assistance and Rs 200 crore for help to damaged Paan Boroi (betel vines).

Several instances are quoted. For example, in Namkhana in Sundarbans, the panchayat samiti member and TMC’s Dhirendranath Patra’s son and six members of his family have been cleared for compensation even as there is little sign of damage to his two-storied house which is an oddity amongst brick-tiled huts. Each head gets Rs 20,000 for complete house damage and Rs 28,000 as wages for 100 days’ labour for reconstruction.

On paper, the relief committee comprises of the Block Development Officer, a representative of the Panchayat and one representative of the Opposition who examines the list of beneficiaries sent by Panchayat members. The committee is supposed to do door-to-door inspections. However, the newspaper claims no meetings were held and no field visits too place. Damningly, the Opposition leader wasn’t kept in the loop. “In short, these rules existed—only on paper,” says the Express.

In Panchla village in Howrah district, a two-storied house belongs to Rimpa Roy who is a TMC and panchayat samiti member. “Again, there are few signs of damage in her house but she and five members of her family, including her in-laws, husband, father and brother, applied for compensation—and have been cleared,” says the newspaper.

The gram pradhan of Kakdwip Namkhana near Sundarbans, Champa Bairagi, has her husband, two daughters, brother, sister-in-law and brother’s son on the compensation list.

In some cases, approvals have gone to bogus claims with the same name as father and husband or somebody who died years ago.

Much water has flowed under the Howrah Bridge since. West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhanker has pulled no punches in accusing chief minister Mamata Banerjee of “corruption, nepotism and politicization.”

The state elections in West Bengal are due early next year.


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