The Trinamul Congress MP Mala Roy has raised questions surrounding the “shortage” in disaster relief funds released by the Centre to West Bengal against the initially approved amount, at a time when an RBI report has listed Bengal among the top five states that are reeling under high debts.
Cyclones like severe cyclone Aila and supercyclone Amphan had left a trail of devastation in Bengal. The Trinamul Lok Sabha MP has questioned in Parliament regarding the funds that the Centre has released to the affected states from the disaster management fund.
In a written reply, the minister of state in home ministry, Nityanand Rai shared that for cyclone Aila in 2009, an amount of Rs 166.87 crore was released to West Bengal against an approved amount of Rs 516.86 crore. For Amphan, it released 2,250.28 crore against the approved Rs 2,707.77 crore. For cyclone Yaas, it released Rs 300 crore against the approved Rs 586.59 crore. Adding the difference between the approved amount and the sum released for all three leaves an outstanding Rs 1,094 crore.
Commenting on this outstanding amount, the TMC MP Roy told The Statesman, “There needs to be some accountability as to what happened to the rest of the money. In a country, all government funds undergo audits. I hope it will be revealed. How can the Centre release less funds than what it approved?”
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has often criticised the Centre for withholding funds that needed to be released for natural disasters. Ms Roy said the chief minister keeps inquiring about the impending funds whenever she is in Delhi and this time too when she visits the Capital, it will be brought to her knowledge.
The Centre, in the case of Amphan, clarified that as per laid guidelines, where sufficient funds were available in the state disaster response fund, the net outgo from the NDRF fund was reduced against the approved amount. For Aila, it said funds were released after adjusting 75 per cent of available funds in the calamity relief fund as the opening balance as on 1 April, 2009.
Meanwhile, the recently released RBI report on risk analysis noted West Bengal in the list of five states that are under fiscal stress. The other states are Bihar, Kerala, Punjab and Rajasthan. One of the reasons cited was the tendency toward handing out cash subsidies and freebies. It noted that the debt-GSDP ratio in Rajasthan, Kerala and West Bengal may exceed 35 per cent by 2026-27. In such a scenario, the shortage in funds has pinched the state hard.