Amphan Relief Fund scam hits WB

Allegations galore with dead people listed as beneficiaries, discrepancies in beneficiary account numbers and misappropriation via transfer of relief funds to politically connected people


Reports are emerging of a large-scale misappropriation of relief funds meant for victims and survivors of the Cyclone Amphan that wreaked havoc on the Indian East Coast when it made landfall on May 20 this year.

An investigation by Indian Express has revealed that relatives of politically powerful members of Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads in cyclone-affected districts were approved for compensation despite there being no damage to their homes. The IE investigation also reveals how one Kalipodo Das was listed as father of at least three people in the Kalinagar gram panchayat and how all three people turned out to be unrelated. Also, the name Kalipodo Das exists only on paper! IE also revealed another such case in Uluberia in Howrah where one Tarun Pramanik has been listed as the father of nine beneficiaries from different faiths! Moreover, names of people who are long dead appeared on the list of beneficiaries!

Cyclone Amphan had caused widespread destruction in North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapur, Kolkata, Hoogly and Howrah. The cyclone also devastated coastal Odisha and parts of Assam where cyclonic activity led to heavy rains that caused flooding in the days following in the cyclone. At least 87 people were killed and thousands of others lost not only their homes, but also their livelihood as farmlands and standing crop were submerged under several feet of water. Fishing boats and vessels were destroyed. Livestock died due to drowning or being swept away.

The West Bengal Government announced a Rs 6,250 crore cyclone relief package. It also set up an Amphan Cyclone Relief Fund soliciting donations to help with relief efforts. But funds that were meant to be given to people help them rebuild their homes were allegedly directed to people who were close to powerful local politicians.

In June, the West Bengal government issued show-cause notices to five Block Development Officers (BDOs) posted in districts of South 24 Paraganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah. A senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer had at that time told PTI, “There are several complaints alleging that people who have been genuinely affected by the cyclone did not get the benefits announced by the state government… There are also cases where people who are close to the public representatives in the panchayats or related to them have got funds for house rebuilding though their houses were not damaged nor had they any agricultural lands.”

It was also alleged that there were discrepancies in not only the spellings of names of beneficiaries, but also their bank account numbers and IFSC codes.

News 18 reported that around the same time, the ruling TMC government had also sent show-cause notices to four leaders; Asansol Municipal Corporation deputy mayor Tabassum Ara, the civic body’s councillor Baby Khatun, Shankar Chakrabarty, and Prabhat Chattopadhyay, giving them 48 hours to respond.

The Print reported that the WB government had received at least 2,100 complaints of corruption related to the cyclone relief funds by the end of June. One shocking case was that of Pradhan Manoj Singh of Hoogly district listing his own phone number in records of 100 beneficiaries, with his wife’s name also appearing in the list.

On June 24, in wake of rising allegations and facing tremendous flak for mismanagement of relief funds WB Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called for an all-party meeting following which she formed a committee to oversee relief distribution. This included opposition leader Dilip Ghosh of the BJP and Sujan Chakraborty of the CPI (M).

This set of fresh allegations related to misappropriation of relief funds could further damage the Banerjee government’s reputation given how memories of the chit fund scam are still fresh where the CBI has filed new FIRs. The BJP has never tried to hide how much it has coveted Bengal, and more mis-steps by Banerjee could make it easier for the opposition to consolidate its base in the state.



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