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Police mercy plea for poll splurge
THE BOOTY
Some of the items procured by the officers with funds meant for the 1999 general elections:
Refrigerators (8)
Colour TVs (15)
AC machines (6)
Water-coolers (4)
Cordless telephones (8)
Music system (2)
Computers (10)
Photocopy machines (6)
Type-writers (24)
Fax machines (9)
Video camera
Ceiling fans (62)

Calcutta, Oct. 29: Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb and former Malda police chief Gaurav Dutt pleaded for mercy before the Public Accounts Committee today to atone for the diversion and misutilisation of funds by the superintendents of police during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections.

Deb and Dutt turned up in the Assembly and admitted their guilt. The chairman of the committee, Subrata Mukherjee, directed the home department to cough up about Rs 1.2 crore misutilised by the police chiefs in seven districts.

In 2000-2001, the Comptroller and Auditor-General had observed in its report on expenditure that the police chiefs of Malda, North 24-Parganas, Midnapore, Birbhum, Hooghly, Darjeeling and Burdwan overshot their spending limits from funds allocated on account of elections 1999.

The report said the Midnapore superintendent of police topped the list by diverting about Rs 26.97 lakh. The Malda police chief came close having spent Rs 26.24 lakh. At the bottom of the black list, the Hooghly superintendent was accused of diverting Rs 5.39 lakh.

The Midnapore police chief had spent the election money on refrigerators, colour television sets, air-conditioners, water-coolers, cordless telephones and battery chargers, besides ceiling fans and voltage stabilisers. The money was also spent on buying a camera, furniture and a music system.

The police superintendent of Malda, the report said, even spent the money on buying a handycam, besides a photocopier, computers and furniture. In North 24-Parganas, the money was spent on computers, printers and other accessories for the police chief, the additional superintendents and subdivisional police officers.

The CAG report was placed before the Assembly on July 4, 2002.

On July 13, a petition was filed in the high court against the misutilisation and diversion of funds. Utpal Roy, the petitioner, claimed that it amounted to playing around with public money.

The high court asked the Election Commission to take steps against the guilty and called upon the Public Accounts Committee to look into the charges.

On August 12 this year, the committee summoned Deb and Dutt. While Deb made it, Dutt had failed to turn up. On Friday, both made it.

Keen to make up for the loss of face, the home department had earlier tried to say the items were absolutely necessary for the smooth conduct of elections. But the committee wanted to know how refrigerators and colour televisions were necessary for polling.

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