Uncertainty looms over Darjeeling municipality two months after the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM)-Trinamul took control of the civic board after the revelation that a BGPM councillor was dismissed from government service for alleged fraud of over Rs 1 crore.
Hamro Party in the Opposition cited the West Bengal Municipal Election Act, 1994, to claim that any councillor “dismissed” from government service over corruption charges cannot contest a civic election for five years. It also said this dismissal issue was not cited by BGPM councillor Usha Rai of ward 15 when she filed her nomination for the 2022 civic elections.
The development threatens the current Darjeeling civic board as BGPM-Trinamul has 16 councillors and Hamro Party-Gorkha Janmukti Morcha 15. The majority in the Darjeeling municipality is 16 in the 32-ward civic body as one seat is vacant.
The Hamro Party-led board was toppled by BGPM-Trinamul two months ago. Six councillors of Hamro Party defected to the Anit Thapa-led BGPM amid allegations of horsetrading.
Ajoy Edwards, president of the Hamro Party, had on January 13 filed a petition before the state election commission seeking Rai’s disqualification. Based on it, the administration sought a report from the department of post.
The report states Rai, then a sub-post master at the North Point sub-office “was involved as principal offender in the fraud case at North Point SO and Darjeeling H.O. which involved misappropriation of govt. money to the tune of Rs 1,15,42,610 (Rupees one crore fifteen lakhs forty-two thousand and six hundred ten) only.”
Though Rai apparently paid back the sum in two installments in 2019, she was put under suspension on June 17, 2019. A chargesheet was drawn against her for allegedly making “fraudulent deposits to the tune of Rs 38, 90,000/- in nine SB accounts ….” and also for allegedly not having submitted “daily transaction reports of North Point SO along with relevant vouchers for the period of 09.05.2019 to 17.06.2019.”
The post office report, forwarded to the joint secretary, state election commission, by district officials stated that a board of inquiry was formed by the department and Rai “submitted a representation accepting all the charges against her”.
“Smt. Usha Rai was punished with ‘dismissal from service which shall ordinarily be a disqualification for future employment under the Government’ vide O/o the PMG, North Bengal Region, Siliguri memo no. 1-60/IV/2019/ INV-dated 21.05.2021.”
Contacted, Rai refused to speak to this newspaper.
Amar Lama, general secretary of BGPM and a lawyer, said: “She (Rai) has not yet been convicted yet and the matter is still pending before the court. This (case) was disclosed by her while filing her nomination and no problem was found during scrutiny.”
To this, Edwards asserted: “There is a separate provision for people dismissed from service for corruption. They are barred from contesting the election in the very first place as per section 33 (1) of the (WB) municipal election act, 1994.”
Section 33 (1) says: “A person who having held an office under the Government of India or under the Government of any State or under any Municipality has been dismissed for corruption... shall be disqualified for a period of five years from the date of such dismissal.”
In the 2022 polls, Rai defeated a Hamro Party candidate with a toss as the counting of votes showed a tie. “We will approach the election commission for clarity on whether our candidate can be declared winner if Rai is disqualified,” said Edwards.