250 phoney victims return Amphan aid
Around 250 ineligible beneficiaries in South 24-Parganas have refunded the Bengal government Cyclone Amphan compensation of about Rs 50 lakh.
The quantum of refunds prompted administrative officials to showcause 50 gram panchayat functionaries, asking them why legal action should not be taken against them for submitting names of ineligible candidates for Amphan aid.
Of the 250 faux beneficiaries, 114 are from Diamond Harbour and 54 from Sagar and Kakdwip.
The state government has been giving Rs 20,000 to each person whose home was destroyed in the cyclone that hit the state on May 20.
Under the state’s orders, all functionaries of three-tier panchayat system — gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad — along with local MLAs and MPs could submit lists of victims eligible for cash aid with the block office concerned.
But in the weeks that followed, villagers accused functionaries of recommending the names of people who had suffered no damage but were close to the ruling dispensation, and leaving out genuine victims. Opposition parties flagged the issue at villages as well as at the all-party meeting called by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, all of which hurried Trinamul into damage control ahead of the 2021 Assembly election.
Trinamul’s Hamida Biwi, the chief of Mathurapur 2 panchayat samiti, who had received Rs 60,000 in compensation in the name of three of her family members, including husband, returned the money on Friday. “We have given back the money,” said Biwi’s husband Faruk Hossain Mollah from Mathurapur in Diamond Harbour.
Trinamul MLAs also said that refunds were coming in.
Bankim Hazra, Trinamul MLA from Sagar in South 24-Parganas, said: “Those who were our panchayat functionaries and their relatives have returned the (Amphan) money sent to their accounts to the respective BDOs. As of now, 54 ineligible persons have refunded money in our area.”
Trinamul’s Magrahat MLA Giasuddin Mollah, minister of state for minority affairs, said the party would take action against those who intentionally named ineligible candidates. “The government is serving showcause notices on local body functionaries and the law will take its course,” he said.
A senior South 24-Parganas district official said the return of money itself “is proof of malpractice and a record of it”. “After receiving the refunds, we are sending showcause letters to respective panchayat functionaries who listed the names of ineligible beneficiaries,” the official said.
Kanti Ganguly, a former CPM minister, said more needed to be done. “A government can’t let anyone off the hook by just getting back the money. We demand stern action against them and those who masterminded the irregularity,” he said.
An official said they had no orders from the government to lodge FIRs against those who received the compensation illegally. “We are just waiting for a nod from the government and are ready to lodge a police complaint,” another official said.
Asked why the administration did not verify names before depositing the compensation, the official admitted “field verifications of 40 per cent beneficiaries could not be done”. “We were told to finish the work in three to four working days.” .
Amid the pandemic, many employees were not attending offices, he said. “We had to trust the representatives of local bodies,” the official added.