Calcutta, Aug. 27: Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya today reacted strongly to the strike call by the Congress in 119 municipalities across the state on September 13 to protest “economic blockade” against the 30 Congress-run civic bodies.
“The strike is aimed to gain political mileage and the people will reject it outright,” Bhattacharya told a news conference at Writers’ Buildings.
He said allegations about the urban development department’s discrimination against Congress-run municipalities was “baseless and concocted”.
“Bengal is the only state where the government shoulders 85 per cent to 87 per cent burden of the municipalities in paying salaries, irrespective of political affiliations. We normally release Rs 523 crore for the municipalities every year. They also receive a share of 16 per cent of various taxes collected by the government,” he said.
Quoting figures, he added, in many cases, the Congress-run civic bodies received more funds in the past two years than those run by the Left Front. He cited the case of Murshidabad municipality, which received Rs 3.24 crore against Rs 2.39 crore received by Left-run Beldanga.
“But the Congress-run municipalities are full of irregularities — illegal appointments, promotions and diversion of funds,” Bhattacharya said.
. In at least 10 municipalities, Congress chairmen were changed on one plea or the other during the last one year,” he added.
Bhattacharya picked up the cases of seven municipalities out of which four are run by the Congress. The Congress-run four municipalities--- Ranaghat and Coopers’ Camp in Nadia, Joynagar-Majilpur in South 24 Parganas and Cooch Behar—are “blacklisted” for various irregularities. In Ranagar and Cooch Behar together, there have been over 600 illegal appointements, he added.
“Despite the irregularities, we are not invoking the provisions of the newly enacted West Bengal Municipal (Amendment) Act by which the chairpersons or the councillors found guilty of misappropriation can be removed,” Bhattacharya further said.
He said that the government had taken a similar tough stand against the Left Front-controlled Rajarhat-Gopalpur municipality in North 24 Parganas.
According to officials, the government has, however, disbursed 50 per cent of the funds to the Congress-run municipalities. “We shall release the rest of the funds only after inspection by officials,” he maintained.
In a related development, the state Congress appeared determined to make the strike in the municipalities a success, come what may. “The strike will be successful despite Bhattacharya’s threat,” claimed PCC vice president Pradip Bhattacharya.