There is an intriguing silence over who the beneficiaries are. As the plot thickens over the cut-money scam in West Bengal, the district administration of Birbhum has taken the lid off a pretty kettle of fish in the aftermath of the Chief Minister’s directive to her party activists to “return the cut money” on purportedly development projects.
Birbhum represents a micro-level case-study of the malaise that has permeated the system in that there is neither development nor growth. This has been exposed with the opening of the can of worms. Quite the most damning has been the discovery by the District Magistrate, Ms Moumita Godara Basu, of the fact that Rs 1.4 crore was withdrawn and shown as “spent” by gram panchayats run by the Trinamul Congress in the district.
The auditing is absurd, verging on t he criminal. The scam relates to the 100 days’ job scheme involving 26 projects that have not materialised. It showcases a mockery of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and in a district that was once the cradle of Rabindranath Tagore’s concept of rural reconstruction.
That concept now exists on the signboards of rural Bengal. The money that was withdrawn has allegedly been siphoned off to the almost incredible extent that no work relating to the digging of ponds was carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGS.
A total of 43 ponds were identified to be dug up for projects that had been planned by the horticulture department. The money was withdrawn by the gram panchayats and the panchayat samitis on the basis of fake utilisation certificates. The fiscal foozle, verily institutionalised, has prompted Mamata Banerjee to crack down on corruption; in the wider perspective what has been guaranteed is endemic corruption rather than gainful employment of the rural populace and tangible utilisation of funds ~ the raison d’etre of the welfare initiative.
The District Magistrate and the Birbhum zilla parishad chief are believed to have visited eight work-sites, where despite the withdrawal of funds there is little or nothing to show on the ground and literally so. Even at the mildest estimation, this is gross corruption involving government projects. The money was withdrawn by submitting fake documents that included rolls of MGNREGS job-card holders.
The district administration plans to file FIRs with the police which is good but does not inspire confidence because the police has never been known to act decisively if activists of the ruling party are involved. There appears to be a nexus between the gram panchayats and the state’s horticulture department in the context of money sanctioned and withdrawn… without any work being done.
The Birbhum narrative recurs in several other districts as well, mainly in the Junglemahal belt of Purulia and Bankura. Mamata Banerjee might not have anticipated the overwhelming mess when she ordered the return of cut-money and a crackdown on corruption. The panchayati raj, once orchestrated by the Left as its flagship achievement, is in tatters under the successor dispensation.