Ever since she came to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee led TMC has caused only political mayhem in the state. Despite all this, the party has been able to maintain its legitimacy in the state for quite some time now. This became possible only because the party adopted a strategy of catering to the poor and downtrodden in the state through various schemes. However, the official breakdown of these schemes suggests that TMC is competing with Congress in terms of scams.
CAG report is out
In its report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has revealed that the Mamata government embezzled thousands of crores from the grants reserved for distributing relief among the victims of cyclone Amphan. CAG has stated that the TMC government committed a “very large number of irregularities” in distributing over Rs 2,000 crore to people for reconstructing their houses destroyed by the cyclone.
Moreover, CAG has also accused Mamata Banerjee’s government of hindering their investigation on what they termed as a ‘high risk’ of frauds. According to a report by the Times of India, CAG informed Union Home Ministry that despite having direct orders from the Calcutta High Court, the TMC government did not cooperate with the investigation.
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A senior officer quoted by Times of India said, “In Amphan relief by the West Bengal government there were a very large number of irregularities which show that not only the selection of beneficiaries was non-transparent but the relief was also distributed in unfair method and there was high risk of frauds in the payment of relief,”
Calcutta High Court refused to trust Bengal Police for investigation
Amphan hit the state in May 2020 and relief was distributed till January 2021. However, even before the distribution work was completed, reports of embezzlement and fraud started to emerge. In July 2020, Indian Express reported that in the official list of beneficiaries, dead people have come back to life. Similarly, one particular individual was enlisted as the father of 9 beneficiaries from different families. Interestingly, the list claimed that the same man fathered 9 children belonging to different faiths. Moreover, people suffering no damage had also enlisted themselves in the list of beneficiaries. Most of them were relatives of politically powerful people in the given geography.
Various more reports also emerged which shocked people’s consciousness to the core.
In what could be termed as a lack of trust in the state police, in December 2020, Calcutta High Court ordered CAG to conduct an independent audit of the relief distribution. The High Court’s distrust of police was vindicated in September 2021 when it refused to accept the investigation report by Bengal Police about the same. Rajesh Bindal, the Chief Justice of the High Court termed it as eyewash.
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CAG conducted its study between February and September 2021 and recommended an investigation of the process of disbursement of the relief. It has also asked the Ministry to run a ‘necessary enquiry’ against the government officials.
Series of allegations of fraud on Mamata
This is hardly the first time the Mamata government is mired by the allegations of fraud and scams. In April 2020, the Mamata Banerjee government was accused of committing fraud in the Public Distribution System of the state. The allegation was made by none other than West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar who is the constitutional head of state. BJP had also endorsed the allegation.
In August 2020, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar again alleged that the Mamata government had committed irregularities in the distribution of medical equipment including life-saving masks. When asked about it, Mamata had diverted the issue by raising questions on the PMCARES fund.
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In November 2021, Calcutta High Court directed CAG to conduct an audit of flood relief distribution in the Malda and Murshidabad districts. In 2017, both districts were severely hit by floods and the Modi government had released Rs 70,000 crore for the victims. The responsibility of distributing relief was taken up by the Mamata government. However, there were widespread allegations of money not reaching the beneficiaries.
In December last year, governor Jagdeep Dhankar came out with fresh allegations with respect to the West Bengal government’s ‘Maa’ project. Under the project, poor families of Kolkata and other districts are provided with pulses, rice, curry, and eggs at a meagre cost of Rs 5. Governor alleged that the money for the project was transferred in an unconstitutional manner.
Mamata does not seem to be worried about scams
Mamata’s troubles have also been exacerbated by the fact that Abhishek Banerjee, her political heir is facing charges of a coal allocation scam running into 1,900 crores.
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For the last 70 years, Indians had started to treat corruption as a day-to-day affair. While the situation is improving in the rest of India, Bengal remains mired in corruption. What hurt Bengalis most is Mamata’s apathy towards their problems. If we go by Mamata Banerjee’s attitude towards the Amphan relief scam, then it would be sufficient to note that Mamata is just trying to be better than the Left government of the past. She is not striving for an absolute zero attitude towards corruption.
When asked about the Amphan scam, Mamata famously justified the scamsters by saying that they stole less than what the Left government used to steal.
One remarkable aspect which made Mamata Banerjee a darling of Bengalis is her simplicity. She was successful in conveying to the poor that no matter what, she will be standing for them. But the allegations after allegations tainted this legacy. Now, serious allegations by a highly respectable and reputed body like CAG has just cornered Mamata Banerjee’s government.