Corruption charges continue to haunt the Mamata Banerjee government with another of its welfare schemes getting mired in graft allegations even as the alleged irregularities of the TMC’s grassroots-level leaders have become a raging political issue in West Bengal.
There are now complaints about lists of beneficiaries of a special allowance for Hindu priests being manipulated to benefit close aides and relatives of some Trinamool Congress’s grassroots-level leaders in several blocks of the state.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last month announced a monthly allowance of ₹1,000 and free housing scheme for Brahmin priests. The announcement was seen as an attempt to woo the Hindu Brahmins amidst opposition BJP’s allegation of Muslim appeasement against the ruling TMC.
The state government had earlier offered a similar dole for the Imams prompting the BJP to make the appeasement charge.
On Wednesday, a section of the priests from Tehetta block of Nadia district held a protest in front of the block officer over alleged anomalies. They alleged non-Brahmins were included in the list of beneficiaries at the behest of some local TMC leaders.
Among others, the name of the husband of a TMC Zila Parishad member, Tina Saha, was also included in the beneficiaries list, the protesters pointed out.
Tina Saha, however, said she was not aware how her husband’s name figured in the list. She alleged it was a conspiracy to malign the image of her family and the party. “I have asked the SDO to inquire as to how my husband’s name got enlisted,” she said, acknowledging that Sahas were not Brahmins.
“We have been receiving hundreds of complaints about such anomalies from across the state,” said Sridhar Mishra, state secretary of the Paschim Banga Rajya Sanatan Brahman Trust, the apex body of the state’s estimated 2.73 lakh Hindu priests.
The scheme was launched by the state government on its request.
“The chief minister was kind enough to announce the scheme on our request to help the economically-backward priests. Unfortunately, due to the misdeeds of some local leaders of the party the very purpose of the initiative is now getting lost,” Mishra said.
“We have taken up the matter with the state government through senior minister Rajib Banerjee. Hopefully, the matter will be resolved,” he added.
Similar allegations of corruption flooded the government over the distribution of compensation to people whose houses were damaged by the Cyclone Amphan that caused widespread damage in May this year.
After the cyclone, the state government announced a direct cash transfer of ₹20,000 to each of the five lakh families that lost their homes. It also decided to release ₹5,000 each for the farmers whose betel orchards were damaged and ₹1,500 per acre for over three lakh farmers who lost their standing crops.
On the ground, however, several gram panchayat and block-level leaders of the TMC allegedly cornered the compensation by enlisting the names of their family members and relatives.
In East Midnapore district, over 75 per cent of the relief claims were found to be bogus, forcing the ruling party to take action against several of its erring block and panchayat-level leaders amidst protests by the opposition.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar even reported the matter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Beleaguered TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had warned the party rank and file that strong action would be taken if anyone is found involved in irregularities. But her warnings failed to stem the menace as has been evident from the latest anomalies over the distribution of honorarium to priests.