Political Slugfest Over Bengal Cyclone Relief Intensifies, BJP Demands Scrutiny Of State Claims And Disbursement
BJP leaders have been citing numerous ground reports which suggest that relief, in the form of cash doles and material aid, is being siphoned off and not reaching intended beneficiaries.
Political slugfest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress has intensified with the West Bengal BJP unit demanding proper scrutiny of the exorbitant Amphan-damage claim of Rs 1.02 lakh crore submitted by the state government.
The state BJP has also made out a justifiable case for intensive scrutiny of disbursal of central relief to ensure that funds are not siphoned off by Trinamool functionaries and the relief reaches real victims of the cyclone.
BJP leaders have been citing numerous ground reports which suggest that relief, in the form of cash doles and material aid, is being siphoned off and not reaching intended beneficiaries. Reports like this have appeared in many local newspapers and TV news channels. Social media has also been flooded with such reports.
Large-scale siphoning off of food aid distributed through the public distribution system (PDS) during the Covid-19 lockdown, allegedly by Trinamool functionaries, had been so rampant that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had to issue warnings to her party colleagues.
Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick was seen in a video warning a district-level party functionary against siphoning off food grains meant for the poor during the lockdown.
“The loot (of relief) during the lockdown by Trinamool functionaries has been so widespread that the Chief Minister has directed that relief to the cyclone-affected should be distributed only through the local administration and not by the panchayats. All the panchayats are controlled by the Trinamool and this is in itself a severe indictment of her own party by Mamata Banerjee,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.
Last weekend, Trinamool supremo Banerjee warned her party colleagues against corruption in cyclone-relief distribution and reconstruction works. Addressing her party MPs and MLAs, Banerjee said that corruption and favouritism in distributing relief or aid to rebuild damaged homes would not be tolerated. She said that all those who play foul on this count would be expelled from the party.
“These warnings are proof enough of the veracity of our charge that Trinamool functionaries are looting relief and helping only those who are affiliated to their party. People owning two-storey concrete houses which did not suffer any damage from the cyclone have been included in the list of people to receive funds for repair of cyclone-damaged buildings while the poor whose mud-houses have been destroyed have been excluded. And only Trinamool sympathisers are getting relief and aid,” alleged BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
A state BJP delegation met the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT), which came to the state last week to assess the cyclone damage. The BJP delegation suggested that the Union government appoint a nodal officer or ‘central observer’ for at least six months to ensure central aid meant for relief and reconstruction is not siphoned off.
The BJP has suggested that such an officer, to be stationed in the state, should closely monitor the relief and reconstruction process.
The BJP has also demanded that the Union government make a detailed and factual assessment of the damage caused by the cyclone instead of relying on the state government’s estimates. The party suggested that relief to Amphan victims should be sent through the ‘direct benefit transfer’ route.
The Trinamool, of course, is chafing at these suggestions.
“These demands are against the federal character of the Constitution and by raising them, the BJP has proved that it is against the people of Bengal. It does not want the people of Bengal to get relief,” said a senior Trinamool leader.
But the BJP has raked up the past to silence the Trinamool.
“When Cyclone Aila devastated Bengal in May 2009, Mamata Banerjee was the Union Railway Minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. She had then urged the PM against extending any support to the (then) Left Front government in Bengal citing history of diversion of central aid to CPI(M) party coffers. The tradition of diversion of central assistance continues under the current Trinamool regime as well,” said BJP’s Ghosh.
The BJP delegation that met the IMCT submitted a three-page memorandum listing all this. The party alleged that a huge amount of central aid was received by Bengal after the two cyclones — Fani and Bulbul — last year, but the relief did not reach the deserving and funds were not utilised properly for repairs and restoration.
It is not just the BJP, which has urged the IMCT to ensure that central relief is not siphoned off by the Trinamool. Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra asked the IMCT to evolve a mechanism to ensure that relief reaches the real victims.
Leader of opposition in the state assembly, Abdul Mannan, alleged large-scale corruption in relief distribution and repairs of damage caused by the cyclone Amphan. He has demanded that relief distribution be monitored very strictly. The CPI(M) has echoed the other opposition parties.
The BJP has raised doubts over the Rs 1.02 lakh crore damage estimate submitted by the state government to the centre. Many, including former bureaucrats, have also questioned this fantastical figure.
“The Union government should send more teams to carry out a sector-wise assessment of the damage caused by the cyclone. Modern technology like drones and satellite imagery should also be harnessed for making such assessments,” suggested a former IAS officer, who served in various senior positions in Bengal before retiring two years ago.
The Trinamool has rejected all allegations of corruption and favouritism in relief distribution, and says those levelling such charges are working against the interests of the people of Bengal. But the Chief Minister’s warnings, and media and ground reports, paint a totally different picture.
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