A ploy by the Trinamul Congress to tighten the noose around the Left Front government two years ago is now threatening to choke the state’s already bleeding transport department.
In March 2010, Mukul Roy, then an Opposition leader in the state and a minister at the Centre, had written to the Union urban development ministry alleging misuse of funds and requesting it to immediately stop disbursement.
The urban development ministry, where Roy’s party man Saugata Roy was a minister of state, then stopped the release of the remaining 17.5 per cent of the Centre’s total contribution of 35 per cent.
More than two years later, the communication between the two Trinamul colleagues — back home in Calcutta now — is preventing the new government from writing to the urban development department for the release of the funds under the JNNURM scheme to buy buses.
The cash-strapped West Bengal Transport Infrastructure and Development Corporation — the agency responsible for framing transport infrastructure on behalf of the transport department — is now struggling to pay Rs 4 crore to an automobile company that provided some of the the buses under the JNNURM scheme.
But the department is reluctant to write to the Centre to release funds. “The first thing they will enquire about is the result of the probe into the alleged misuse of funds mentioned in the letter written by a Trinamul leader. We will not have an answer as no probe has been conducted,” said an official of the transport department.
Dinesh Bajaj, the chairman of the WBTIDC, refused comment but transport minister Madan Mitra said his department has not yet received the remaining 17.5 percent of the Centre’s share. “I will have to check the files to find out why the money has not been disbursed,” said Mitra.
If you thought that a debt of Rs 4 crore is minuscule for a department that is already bleeding heavily and paying Rs 600 crore as subsidy to the various corporations it commands, wait.
The populism of Mamata Banerjee has not helped matters. Her policy on bus fares has virtually made the transport business unviable for private operators and they have all but stopped repaying their EMIs. “The government had assured us there would be dedicated routes for JNNURM buses with higher fares, but they did not keep their word. We cannot pay such high instalments when the losses are so high,” said Pradip Kumar Ghosh, of JNNURM Bus Operators’ Welfare Association.
According to a source, WBTIDC owes over Rs 40 crore to Allahabad Bank and the Bangiya Gramin Vikas Bank because of non-payment of EMIs by over 250 private operators who were given 496 JNNURM buses.