The political battle over the withholding of central funds for social welfare schemes in Bengal, which has now shifted to the nation’s capital, continued for the second consecutive day on Tuesday with the Trinamul Congress sticking to its scheduled dharna at Jantar Mantar and the BJP adding fresh teeth to the controversy in the form of Suvendu Adhikari who also moved to Delhi to counter the ruling party's claims.
The Trinamul show of strength was led by the party’s second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee, who bunked the Enforcement Directorate appearance notice and moved Division Bench seeking clarification on the Justice Amrita Sinha order. He was joined on the dharna platform by deprived job card holders of the MNREGS scheme who made arduous bus journeys to reach the venue. Almost the entire Trinamul brass, including MPs, MLAs, councillors and leaders were also present at the dharna which lasted for about five hours.
On display at the protest site were what Banerjee claimed were 50 lakh demand letters from deprived beneficiaries which the party had amassed and transported to Delhi to be delivered to Krishi Bhavan. A 40-member delegation from the dharna, comprising Trinamul MPs, handpicked leaders, and eight deprived job card holders, marched to Krishi Bhavan from Jantar Mantar carrying the bunch of letters to the office of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, junior food processing minister, who met the protesting delegates in place of rural development minister Giriraj Singh, whose appointment the Trinamul had originally sought.
But even before setting foot inside Krishi Bhavan, Banerjee pledged that Trinamul Congress MPs, MLAs, and leaders holding public offices would contribute their salaries and replenish within the next two months the dues which the Centre owes the 2500-odd job card holders who accompanied Banerjee to Delhi and participated in the protest.
“As for the remaining 20 lakh people of the state whose wages the Modi-government has held back, it is my promise to pay them their dues within the next six months with 10 per cent interest,” Banerjee declared from the dharna platform while directing party workers to prepare a list of those deprived beneficiaries for every assembly seat in the state. “We will meet and speak with each and every one of then,” he stated.
“Depending on the outcome of our meeting with the minister today if there are no positive responses regarding payment of dues, I promise to return to Delhi in two months time with one lakh people from Bengal and with chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself leading that protest rally,” Abhishek declared.
Tearing into what he called Trinamul’s “drama”, the state’s Leader of the Opposition echoed Giriraj Singh’s threats to initiate CBI probe in the MNREGS “scam”. “We haven’t stopped funds, we have only stopped the theft,” Adhikari claimed.
Claiming that out of the 3.88 crore job cards issued by the state, a staggering 1.32 crore job cards were found to be fake and cancelled, Adhikari said, “thousands of crores was siphoned off in this massive scam”.
TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee with party leaders during a protest against the central government over the alleged denial of MGNREGA scheme funds to the West Bengal government, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. PTI picture.
“The government should take help from independent agencies to segregate fake job cards from genuine job cards. Based on the enlistments on the MNREGS portal for which funds were released, the government should check which schemes have genuine utilization of those funds and which schemes don’t and where money has been siphoned off,” Adhikari stated at a press conference held from the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
“Using the identity-based signature mechanism, the Centre needs to check fake schemes and their money utilization certificates from the genuine ones, throw the thieves in jail and hand over appropriate benefits to the genuine claimants,” the leader said and added: “the Bengal government did not do this, that’s why we need an independent agency to get it done.”
“The Centre sent multiple probe teams after receiving our complaints. They found the irregularities and made concrete recommendations to the state. The state was asked to recover money sent to accounts of fake job card holders and register FIRs against the issuing authority of those fake job cards,” said Adhikari.
“The state has the power to lodge FIRs under the CrPC Act and it’s their job to do so. Now that time is past, we are also demanding a CBI probe in the matter. But the ministry concerned will take a final call about it,” he said.