Calcutta, Oct. 4: Alarmed at growing incidents of corruption in civic bodies, the government has introduced a vigilance system to track down corrupt municipal officials.
Errant civic officials, including councillors and municipal chairpersons, will also come under the purview of the new system.
The urban development department has authorised the Municipal Vigilance Authority, functioning from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, to oversee matters pertaining to corruption in all municipalities throughout the state. There are 118 municipalities and five municipal corporations across Bengal.
The state government has also framed a new set of rules and guidelines in checking corruption and making civic bodies accountable to the people. The West Bengal Municipal Corporation Rules, 2003, was passed in the budget session of the Assembly.
According to the new rules, the vigilance authority will take up cases of all complaints against corruption, misconduct, lack of integrity and any other kind of malpractice or misdemeanour on part of civic officials, councillors and even chairpersons and mayors.
The rules envisage that any citizen having knowledge about corruption among civic officials will first bring them to the chairpersons’ notice, who will immediately probe the matter along with the chief executives of the municipality concerned and take steps accordingly.
If a person suspects any corruption among civic officials, the matter can be directly reported to the vigilance authority. Moreover, if the municipal authorities stumble upon corruption among civic staff, they will refer the case to the vigilance authority for a detailed probe.
The vigilance authority will function in the line of the state vigilance commission, which investigates corruption among government employees.
“Our move is aimed at making civic bodies more accountable to the people. We are disbursing crores of funds to the municipalities to provide civic amenities. We want the funds to be properly used for the benefit of the people. The government will not tolerate any misappropriation of the public money,” said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya.
He made it clear that civil officials, including chairmen, will face stern disciplinary action if they are involved in corrupt practices.
“The Municipal Vigilance Authority will oversee the matters pertaining to corruption in all 118 municipalities across Bengal,” added the urban development minister.
Corruption does not mean only financial irregularities, officials said. “The vigilance authority will also take into account whether civic bodies are following the government’s guidelines in ensuring proper utilisation of funds — specific funds to be used for specific projects — misconduct, lack of integrity and nepotism among officials.
“Suppose, if a civic official is found involved in swindling money while constructing a road, sinking tube wells, constructing a cultural complex and having nexus with unscrupulous contractors, chairpersons will refer the cases to the vigilance authorities,” said a senior official in the municipal affairs department.
The government’s decision follows a series of complaints from various municipalities involved in corrupt practices. They include Behrampore in Murshidabad, Bansberia in Hooghly, Suri in Birbhum and Titagarh in North 24-Parganas.
“After getting the complaints from the municipalities, our officials paid a visit to the errant municipalities and found that they had diverted the funds. Some of them have already submitted utilisation certificates without implementing the projects,” the minister said.
Bhattacharya held a meeting with senior officials to find out how corruption could be checked in municipalities.
An official said: “It is found that corruption surfaces in the municipalities as we have no vigilance system.”