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State of graft

The Centre’s flagship housing project, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G), aims to provide pucca houses to people in rural areas who are homeless or living in dilapidated houses. But in West Bengal, the scheme’s primary purpose has become a casualty as the ruling Trinamool Congress cadres seem to be using PMAY-G for personal benefits. For more than a month, protests have been raging in several districts against ineligible people finding their way into the list of potential beneficiaries. Now an investigation by this newspaper has revealed that the impropriety began at the first tier of the process — at the block level. At Purba Bardhaman, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas, among the districts affected by the protests, the name of a deputy pradhan of a TMC-ruled panchayat, a party core committee member, another party worker, who is also a panchayat member, figure in the list of beneficiaries, even though they own pucca houses.

Implementation of the PMAY scheme in West Bengal has been dogged by controversies since April last year when the Centre froze funds because the state government had rechristened the scheme as Banglar Awas Yojana. In November, it softened its stance and approved its share of Rs 8,200 crore — the funding for the scheme is split between the Centre and state in a 60:40 ratio. The resumption of funding came with a stern reminder to West Bengal to not deviate from due procedures. It asked the state government to ensure that districts form teams of special officers to investigate allegations of corruption. These warnings seemed to have been ignored. Protests erupted after the lists of beneficiaries were made public. In Murshidabad, 17 TMC panchayat members resigned fearing local resentment over the alleged irregularities. Unfortunately, instead of probing the matter, the party rejected these resignations.

The TMC has been dogged by allegations of graft and corruption, ever since it replaced the Left Front as the party holding office in West Bengal. After the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party supremo had admonished TMC members who were accused of taking bribes – cut money in the state’s parlance — from people wanting to avail social welfare schemes. The Opposition took this as a tacit admission of the corrupt ways of TMC members. Protests broke out in several parts of the state with people demanding that TMC leaders return the cut money. A year later, after Cyclone Amphan ripped through West Bengal, an investigation by this newspaper revealed nepotism and political favouritism in the disbursal of relief funds. The party had issued show cause notices to at least 200 of its members. State government officials have assured that they will weed out the names of the ineligible from the PMAY-G lists. They must give the task the utmost urgency. More importantly, the TMC government must ensure that delivery of welfare is as per due process and not as patronage.

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