Gherao with cry for ‘cut money’ refund
Demonstrations demanding refund of “cut money” erupted in several parts of Bengal on Wednesday, a day after Mamata Banerjee had asked elected Trinamul representatives to return such illegal sums taken from beneficiaries of government schemes.
The Trinamul chief had issued the orders at a meeting with party councillors as part of corrective measures announced by her after the Lok Sabha poll setback in which the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats and led in 121 of the 294 Assembly segments.
On Wednesday, 100-odd residents of Srichandrapur village in Birbhum’s Illambazar gheraoed houses of Uttam Bauri, a member of the Trinamul-run gram panchayat, and a booth committee chief, Rajib Ankure, demanding refund of the cuts they had allegedly taken for allotting houses under central schemes. Uttam and Rajib dismissed the allegations as “politically motivated”. Senior Trinamul leaders refused comment.
The villagers placed Trinamul flags at the doors of the duo’s houses and demonstrated for nearly three hours, setting a two-week deadline for the refunds. The agitators said around 50 houses had been allotted in the area under the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana in the past three years and alleged that Bauri and Ankure had forced them to cough up Rs 5,000-17,000 as cuts for the first instalment. A sum of Rs 1.2 lakh is allotted in four instalments.
“They asked me for Rs 5,000 when I received Rs 35,000 in my account as the first instalment. I refused but they said they would ensure the subsequent instalments were stopped,” said Mithu Bauri, adding a dozen beneficiaries like her had failed to get constructions completed because of the cuts.
Asked why they had come forward now to demand refunds, some of the protesters said they had felt emboldened by the chief minister’s order on Tuesday. “We all are Trinamul workers. We watched on TV that she ordered the refunds,” said Barun Bauri, another beneficiary.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mamata had asked the leaders whether they “must stoop to taking Rs 200 as cut from a scheme that offers only Rs 2,000 as benefit to the poor (for cremation or burial)”.
In Bankura’s Gadarididhi, BJP supporters hit the streets on Wednesday to embarrass Trinamul leaders. Many demonstrated before the local panchayat office and accused the rural body’s head of taking cuts and demanded refunds.
Many Trinamul leaders admitted in private the signs were “alarming”. “Pent-up angst over such things was a key factor that worked against us in the Lok Sabha polls. But prior to this, nobody had dared demand refund of cuts,” said a Trinamul leader in Birbhum.