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Can-of-worms anxiety in Trinamul

Trinamul MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya outside the detective department office of Siliguri police in August

Dec. 1: The Trinamul Congress is keeping its fingers crossed as the arrest of the Malda district magistrate has the potential to draw unwelcome attention to some leaders who had been questioned over alleged irregularities.

Rudranath Bhattacharya, the Siliguri MLA, Ranjan Silsharma, a councillor in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation, and Chandan Bhowmik, Trinamul’s Jalpaiguri district president, were quizzed by Siliguri police as part of the funds release probe in August.

Allegations have been levelled that funds for projects undertaken by the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) were released without verifying the work completed.

Bhattacharya today said: “I have no comments.” Silsharma and Bhowmik also refused to speak.

According to sources, a section of Trinamul leaders fears that if party leaders are linked to the funds misuse, it would add to the embarrassment caused by the arrest of Trinamul MP Kunal Ghosh in a case related to the Saradha Group.

The party has so far weathered the Saradha storm but the emergence of another controversy in quick succession would make damage-control all the more difficult.

A factor that Trinamul is expected to underscore is that the party had cracked the whip on its own before the controversy assumed the current proportions.

Bhattacharya was removed as chairman of the SJDA in March this year and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb replaced him. But Bhattacharya continues to be on the 14-member board of the authority along with Silsharma and Bhowmik.

Malda DM G. Kiran Kumar, who was the SJDA chief executive officer when the alleged misuse of funds came to light, was granted bail today. “With barely a few months to go before next year’s Lok Sabha elections, the SJDA scam would give a fresh excuse to the Opposition Left and the Congress to target the party as well as the government,” a Trinamul leader said tonight.

The Trinamul leader pointed out that the Opposition had already launched a campaign, both in the Assembly and outside, demanding a CBI probe into the Saradha default.

Trinamul sources said chief minister Mamata Banerjee today spoke to Deb and party all-India general secretary Mukul Roy during the day on the Siliguri funds issue.

Deb told The Telegraph in response to a question: “After the Malda DM’s arrest, we want to ensure that none of our party leaders is implicated in this murky matter any longer. But at the same time, we are determined to expose those involved in the scam.”

Around Rs 100 crore was allegedly released for several projects before work was started.

Sabitri Mitra, the minister for women and child development, did not hide her resentment over Kumar’s arrest. “Why was the Malda DM arrested? This should not have been done,” she said.

Youth Congress supporters and those from the DYFI, the CPM’s youth wing, brought out processions demanding the arrest of others involved in the funds release case.

The Congress and the CPM declared that they would separately hit the streets in Siliguri tomorrow to step up heat on the government.

“We want Rudranath Bhattacharya and other Trinamul leaders who are members of the SJDA board to be arrested,” former minister and CPM leader Asok Bhattacharya said in Siliguri.

“Citizens of Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Malbazar and Mainaguri have watched how funds allocated for development for their areas have been siphoned off and now, the government is shielding the accused persons,” he added.

State Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya said tonight that a Congress team would visit Siliguri to organise a sustained movement demanding the arrest of Trinamul leaders involved in the SJDA scam.