Rural Bengal is seething and the searchlight has eventually been turned inwards. And it is satisfying to note that the West Bengal government has exposed the fiddle that hobbled the compensation package in the wake of Cyclone Amphan on 20 May. Central to the scam, as it now transpires, has been the printed application form, which one would have imagined is a piece of official stationery.
The victims will now be entitled to apply for compensation by furnishing the details on plain paper. The turnaround on the part of the state comes about in the wake of complaints of graft in the distribution of relief. It is a measure of the canker that has permeated the system that the Chief Secretary was compelled to concede over the weekend that “an organised application process on a pre-printed form ought not to be encouraged”.
The state government, in effect, has done away with the system. In the face of reports of corruption emanating from East Midnapore, North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah districts, the somewhat belated praxis of applications ~ on plain paper ~ will hopefully ensure that genuine victims are not excluded. Beyond the four districts, the scam would appear to have assumed almost endemic proportions.
It thus comes about that the Chief Minister has received no fewer than 2,100 such complaints. It is cause for alarm too that the district administrations are receiving thousands of complaints against the gram panchayats. The allegation is the common strand across the state’s 19 districts. There is palpably a groundswell of anger in rural Bengal, considering that 5,000 villagers of a gram panchayat in Patharpratima (South 24-Parganas) had recently gheraoed the pradhan, an elected functionary.
Reports do suggest that it has been a wellcalibrated fiddle when one reflects that only 600 people had figured on the list of beneficiaries for government compensation despite the grim ground reality ~ the dwellings of more than 7,000 people had been devastated on the afternoon of 20 May. The 600 purported beneficiaries are said to be close to the ruling party.
It is gratifying to note that the leadership of the party and government has now cracked the whip, and without engaging in a blamegame. For no apparent reason, the printed forms are, as often as not, reported missing. People with political support are allegedly cornering all the forms in several districts that are today seething with anger over the hideous cocktail of inefficiency and corruption.
The decision to accept applications on plain paper is an attempt to tackle corruption at the grassroots. Free rice till September remains a promise on paper. The government, above all, needs to be forthright about the list of beneficiaries who now contend with a double whammy ~ the withering effects of the cyclone and the corruption that has thus far been tacitly condoned.