State tourism minister Gautam Deb has said that he would file a defamation suit against BJP general secretary Raju Banerjee for accusing him of involvement in corruption. Speaking at a party programme near the office of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) on 11 July to press for the demand for arrest of the main accused persons involved in the alleged SJDA scam, Mr Banerjee had said that Mr Deb, Siliguri mayor Asok Bhattacharya, and Matigara-Naxalbari MLA and Congress working president Sankar Malakar were also involved in corruption.

“The person who made such baseless comments is holding a post in the national ruling party. He commented without having knowledge of the SJDA issue. He should know what is what before making such comments, and he is not aware of what steps we had taken to unearth the truth. His comments infringed on my fundamental rights and dignity. I am already exploring legal options and will file a damage suit against him in the Calcutta High Court,” Mr Deb said here today.

Government money was allegedly misappropriated in SJDA projects related to installation of three electric crematoriums in Bagdogra, Malbazaar and Mainaguri, two sewerage treatment plants (STP) at Fulbari, desiltation in the Jorapani and Mahananda rivers, and installation of CCTV cameras. The charges came to the fore in 2013, while the issue became political, and former Siliguri Trinamul Congress MLA Dr Rudranath Bhattacharya was removed as the SJDA chairman and Mr Deb appointed in his place.

“I was made the chairman of the SJDA in the first week of March in 2013, when some irregularities were reported there, and eight complaints were lodged after it came to light and we had engaged experts of Jadavpur University to check the nature and the status of the work. At the same time, tenders of Rs150- Rs 200 crore were cancelled. The work orders were issued in most of the projects when I was not the chairman of the SJDA. So how will such allegations hold true?” Mr Deb said.

“Siliguri Metropolitan Police had arrested some contractors and engineers in this connection, based on complaints, while later, the CID arrested G Kiran Kumar, the then SJDA chief executive officer, but the Enforcement Directorate was also investigating the case, but what about their status of investigation?” he said. Both Mr Bhattacharya and Mr Malakar also ruled out the allegations. When asked, Mr Banerjee said over phone that Mr Deb can very well file such suits.

“In a democracy, he can file cases, but we will take all the necessary steps for CBI investigations,” he said. At least 13 persons, including Mr Kumar, some engineers and contractors, were arrested on corruption charges. Mr Kumar was arrested on 15 July 2015 by the CID for alleged embezzlement of funds for setting up an electric crematorium in Mainaguri in Jalpaiguri district. He was the joint secretary of the agriculture department when he was arrested.