Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is on a two-day dharna in Kolkata to register her protest against what she alleges is “deprivation by the Centre”.
Her primary grouse is the non-disbursal of funds by the Union Government for various projects and welfare schemes that are wholly or majorly funded by the Centre.
According to the chief minister’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who delivered a fiery speech before his aunt sat on her dharna Wednesday (March 29) noon, the Union Government has withheld Rs 1.15 lakh crore for 106 schemes.
Abhishek, who is also the ‘national’ general secretary of the Bengal-based party, said that the Union Government has stopped disbursing funds for these schemes and projects since the last financial year (2021-2022),
Both Mamata Banerjee and her nephew have ‘threatened’ to take their protests to New Delhi if the Centre does not resume disbursal of funds immediately. The chief minister said she would stage a dharna in front of the Prime Minister’s residence.
Are the allegations true?
Yes, the Union government has stopped disbursal of funds for many central schemes and projects. But that’s because of large-scale corruption that has marred these projects and schemes in Bengal.
And also because the state government has not furnished the mandatory accounts or utilisation certificates.
Furthermore, the state government had been merrily re-labelling many centrally-funded projects and welfare schemes as state-funded schemes and projects and Mamata Banerjee has been claiming credit for those. That is not allowed and violates norms governing such schemes and projects.
The largescale loot of Central funds
Take the (MGNREGA) that guarantees 100 days’ work for the poor.
‘Job cards’ in the name of poor beneficiaries are created and payments made from funds disbursed by the Union Government against the work done by the beneficiaries on the basis of the number of days of work they put in.
According to the Union Government, lakhs of fake job cards--leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari puts this number as one crore (fake job cards)--were created by Trinamool functionaries at the gram panchayat level and also by field officers of the state government.
The ghost beneficiaries of these fake job cards were paid for the work supposed to have been done by them. In reality, all those payments were pocketed by Trinamool functionaries.
It was only when the Centre asked all states to link the job cards with the Aadhaar numbers of the beneficiaries that the scam came to light.
The state government contends that it cancelled all the fake job cards, and that signalled its intent to ensure transparency. But, says Suvendu Adhikari, all the money fraudulently syphoned off by Trinamool functionaries should be recovered from them and returned to the Union Government.
“The state government says it has cancelled the fake job cards and stopped the corruption. But it has not identified and prosecuted those who created the fake job cards and recovered the hundreds of crores of Rupees they have made over the past ten years from them,” Ahikari told Swarajya.
Then take the (PMAY) under which grants for building pucca houses are given to those living below the poverty line (BPL).
Lakhs of ineligible people, mainly Trinamool netas, their relatives and lackeys, claimed to belong to the BPL category and took PMAY grants meant for the poor. Numerous media reports revealed that many of the ‘beneficiaries’ were well-off and owned two and three-storied houses.
After audits revealed this scam, the state government was forced to acknowledge that anomalies happened. But all those who claimed to be poor--Trinamool netas, their relatives and their lackeys--to avail grants under the PMAY were let scot-free.
“People who commit such grave frauds should be booked and arrested, and the amounts they fraudulently took has to be recovered from them. But that has not been done,” said Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumdar.
That is why the Union Government has stopped disbursing funds under PMAY. The state government is expected to set right the wrongs that were committed under its watch and punish the guilty before the flow of funds resumes.
In the case of the (PMGSY) too, audits have revealed largescale corruption and misuse of funds. Many rural roads which the state government claims to have constructed with PMGSY funds exist on paper only or do not meet the specifications set by the Union Government.
In scores of other centrally-sponsored schemes and projects, the state government has failed to provide the mandatory utilisation certificates (UCs) which detail the progress of works and the amount of money spent on those projects and schemes.
“The state government has not provided the UCs since it knows that a close scrutiny of its claims about progress of works and money spent on those works and schemes would unearth largescale corruption. But unless UCs are provided, the Centre cannot release the next tranche of funds,” explained Adhikari.
“The Trinamool has looted central funds and the Union Government has done the right thing by stopping further disbursal of funds till all the guilty are brought to book and the money they have looted is recovered from them. Till that is done, there should not be any flow of central funds to the states for welfare schemes and projects,” Adhkary told Swarajya.
Why Mamata Banerjee is not acting against the corrupt
Mamata Banerjee can ill-afford to take even mild action against her party functionaries who have looted Central funds.
“The thousands of Trinamool netas who pocketed central funds meant for the poor also ‘donated’ a substantial portion of their loot to their party coffers. So no action can be taken against them. And if Mamata Banerjee starts taking action against the corrupt in her party, there will be no one left in the Trinamool,” said Adhikari.
The fallout of stoppage of Central funds
The stoppage of central funds has brought a number of centrally-sponsored schemes and projects in the rural areas to a complete halt and that has fuelled anger among the rural masses.
People in the rural areas, especially the poor, are angry since they are not getting any work under MGNREGA, development work like construction of roads under PMGSY has come to a halt and people are not getting grants for constructing houses under the PMAY or toilets under .
Many other schemes like supply of potable water to all households under the , to name just one, have stopped because of non-submission of UCs and accounts, or the state government’s failure to correct anomalies that have been revealed by audits.
Mamata Banerjee fears that this anger will reflect in the panchayat polls that are scheduled in Bengal in May. She knows people are angry and will punish the Trinamool.
Even a minor upset in the panchayat polls will have a bearing on the Lok Sabha polls next year. Mamata Banerjee is intent on winning the maximum number of seats from the state in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in order to strengthen her party’s position on the national political stage.
Hence, she needs to redirect people’s anger towards the Union Government and the BJP with her allegations of ‘step-motherly treatment of Bengal by the Centre’.
She also needs to divert people’s attention from the revelations by the CBI and ED that are probing multiple scams in which Trinamool functionaries are involved.
The recovery of huge assets from Trinamool functionaries, including some senior leaders and others close to the party’s top leadership, has embarrassed the party and even tainted Mamata Banerjee’s image.
She needs a diversion. And that is why she had staged this dharna.
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