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No projects but crores for clubs

Calcutta, Dec. 19: The cash-strapped government has decided to give Rs 3.89 crore to clubs in Jungle Mahal and the tribal belt of Birbhum, a move aimed at appeasing voters before the panchayat polls at a time several development projects are yet to take off.

Writers’ sources said 1,556 clubs would be given Rs 25,000 each. Last year too, the government had distributed Rs 15.6 crore among clubs, a move that had drawn sharp criticism.

“The chief minister is likely to give the cheques to the clubs on January 5 during the youth festival at Midnapore town. Of the 1,556 clubs, more than 1,400 are located in Maoist-affected Jungle Mahal,” a senior official said.

The sports department will shoulder the burden, he added. According to an order issued by the department, the amount will be given from its plan funds.

“Usually, expenditure is done from the plan head to create assets. But in the case of the sports department, some money is allotted under the head to give grants-in-aid for promotion of sports. The clubs will be given the cash from this head,” the official said.

Another official said the decision to give out cash to clubs showed that the government was “not ready” to change its stance despite last year’s criticism.

Senior officials dubbed the move a “desperate attempt” to keep the Trinamul support base intact at a time the majority of the projects in Jungle Mahal could not be completed because of shortage of funds.

“The chief minister had promised to set up three stadiums, upgrade at least 150 schools, build two bridges and hostels for tribals in Jungle Mahal. Except for a hospital building at Raipur in Bankura, none of the projects has been completed in the past one year. The agencies engaged stalled work on most of the projects as the public works department could not pay their bills,” an official said.

“Distributing cash among the clubs is aimed at wining the hearts of tribal youths before the rural polls,” he added.

The sports department has asked the police chiefs of West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum to identify eligible clubs.