Around the time when supporters of Trinamul Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee clashed with the Delhi Police in and around Raj Ghat turning the region into a virtual war zone, Union rural development minister Giriraj Singh announced his intention to launch a CBI probe into the alleged siphoning of MNREGA money amounting to thousands of crores by those responsible for its implementation at Bengal’s grassroots.
“Till March 2022, the Union government has released Rs 54,150 crore for Bengal under the MNREGS head. Compare that with the Rs 14,000-odd crore which was released during the UPA regime in which Mamata Banerjee was herself a constituent,” Singh said at a press conference held at his home constituency in Begusarai in Bihar..
“But when we conducted inquiries into the allegations of the rampant corruption of the funds, we unearthed large-scale irregularities in its implementation across the state where actual beneficiaries were duped and money was simply gobbled up,” the minister continued.
“Our probe teams were met with sustained non-cooperation from the Bengal government and its administration. When the hour came to link the Aadhar cards with the job card holders of the scheme, we found that as many as 25 lakh job cards in the state were fake, belonging to either non-existent beneficiaries or to people who are dead and gone. The state government was showing utilization of those cards for years on end and taking money,” Singh alleged.
“It looks like the time has come to transfer this case to the CBI. We are done with this chori aur upar se seenazori (on top of theft, you thump your chest) attitude,” the minister stated.
Claiming that the Centre had sanctioned 45 lakh rural houses in Bengal under the PM Avaas Yojna Scheme and then a further 11 lakh houses under the same head, the minister said: “The total amount sanctioned for Bengal under rural housing stood at about Rs 30,000 crore compared to the Rs 5,400 crore under the UPA regime.”
“Even there our inquiries found severe irregularities including owners of two-storeyed buildings getting PMAY money,” Singh stated as reasons for stopping the fund flow to both the schemes.
“I came to know that the Trinamul plans to lay siege to the Krishi Bhavan. I would instead ask Mamata Banerjee to return the money her people looted from the people of Bengal and answer the government of India about our queries on those 25 lakh fake job cards,” the minister declared.
“We welcome a CBI probe, but the first person who should be arrested is Giriraj Singh himself,” said Abhishek Banerjee while addressing reporters outside Raj Ghat premised after withdrawing his sit-in dharna.
“It is because of the stubbornness of the Narendra Modi government which is hell-bent on not releasing the funds which resulted in the deaths of the three children who were crushed under the mud walls of their home,” Banerjee added referring to the tragic accident in Bishnupur, Bankura last week. “If the minister had released the money, they would have had a pucca house and this tragedy could have been averted,” he said.
Said Babul Supriyo, a former junior minister with the Modi government and now a minister at Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet: “If the Centre is convinced that it is justified in withholding funds, why is the rural development minister shying away from meeting us, something we have repeatedly requested?”
“Let him meet and tell us why he thinks he is right in his action. The fact he doesn’t want to meet us means there is dishonesty in his heart,” Supriyo maintained.
Sukanta Majumdar, president of the BJP’s Bengal unit who is also camped in Delhi in the wake of the TMC protest plans in the Capital, countered Abhishek’s logic saying, “We too are asking the same question. It is only now that Avaas money has been stopped. Why wasn’t the money sanctioned before utilized in building a pucca house for the Bankura victims? Why did the house remain in that kutcha state when money was already given before? The Trinamul should stop doing politics with victims and face the truth.”