‘Politics’ whiff in Delhi audit in Bengal
Bengal’s ruling establishment is livid at the Centre’s decision to send a team to audit the state’s expenditure under the 100 days job scheme, with insiders saying it looked like Delhi was trying to discredit the state government’s claim of creating 16.62 crore mandays between April and early August.
Sources said Bengal had “routinely” created more than 22 crore mandays a year over the past few years but no central audit team had ever been sent to the state before.
A senior official commented that with Assembly elections nearing, Bengal’s rural job mandays would become a political issue.
A minister in the Bengal government said: “This is a political move to harass the state government that worked hard during the pandemic to secure jobs for rural populace... The Centre should release Rs 53,000 crore first, which is due under various schemes, and then they should send teams to find out if we have done any wrong.”
The minister said that they would cooperate with the teams, but the Centre must clear all dues so that the state can carry on with its development activities.
Last week, the panchayat and rural development department was informed that central teams would conduct an audit of expenditure incurred under the 100 days job scheme — officially known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — since 2017-18.
The panchayat department was told that the team would visit Bengal between August 10 and 14 and tour multiple districts.
The team, sources said, would visit multiple districts with a primary focus to scan the books of accounts related to expenditure under the scheme between April and first week of August 2020.
“The trigger behind the audit team’s proposed visit is Bengal’s creation of 16.62 crore mandays under the scheme during this period which is more than 75 per cent of its annual target of creating 22 crore mandays,” said a source.
“It has spent Rs 4,865 crore under the scheme during the period which is over 76 per cent of proposed annual expenditure,” the source added.
The Bengal government has asked district authorities to cooperate with the team.
On why the audit, Trinamul insider said: “The BJP was finding it hard to stomach the state government’s success in creation of jobs in the rural areas during the lockdown when people were in dire need of income opportunities.”
A source in the administration said the move to send central teams was initiated after the state uploaded figures that it created 1.25 crore mandays in April and 4.47 crore mandays in May amid a nationwide lockdown in the major part of the time.
“No other state created such a huge number of mandays during that period. We explained that as there was no curb on agriculture and its allied sectors, we focused on these areas to create rural jobs. It appears that our explanations did not satisfy Delhi,” said a senior official.
The BJP welcomed the Centre’s move while alleging gross irregularities under the scheme in the past four months.
State BJP president and Midnapore MP Dilip Ghosh said: “The central team should examine ground realities for themselves. The Union government allocates the highest funds for Bengal. However, the money never fully reaches beneficiaries of MGNREGA fully. The state government juggles with figures. They cannot be trusted. Where is all the money going? What is wrong if the team wants an audit?”