‘Giving bribes for availing government services has become a practice in Bengal’.

 

Kolkata: After the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) poor performance in the recently held Lok Sabha polls, as a damage control measure, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had told her party men to return “cut money” or bribe they had taken from people from rendering government services ranging from getting homes under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, availing toilet facilities under the Nirmal Bangla scheme, or for LPG connections under the Ujjwala Yojana. But if Banerjee had opened a Pandora’s Box by “admitting” that her party members take bribe, it amounted to only the tip of the iceberg, for taking “cut money” in government schemes seems only a small part of a larger malaise in the state—the main problem of all-pervasive corruption under the TMC about which nothing is being done by Banerjee. In fact, since the TMC came to power in 2011, there have been allegations that TMC councillors to ministers had indulged in rampant corruption by taking money for college admissions and admission in hospitals, to running a syndicate for supplying building materials for the construction business and extortion at various levels.

BJP leader Mukul Roy said: “People in West Bengal are accustomed to TMC members taking cut money to get any service. People do not have any option but to shell out money to avail services. Sometimes, the TMC leaders are so violent that they extort money from people at gunpoint. It has emerged that workers of TMC leader Jyotipriyo Mullick took money to the tune of Rs 33 lakh from a businessman at gunpoint. In course of time, the TMC has formed a syndicate of organised extortion racket. Extortion and taking cut money for availing government services have became a regular practice in Bengal after the TMC came to power. Instead of rooting out corruption, Mamata is indulging in corruption.”

Organised extortion is commonly known as “Tolabaazi”. According to Roy, allegations of organised extortion have become so common that even police do not want to register FIRs and so people are forced to pay the hefty amounts charged by TMC leaders.

During college admissions, there have been allegations that leaders of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP) charge money from students for admissions in various disciplines and it is due to such allegations that the state government made online admissions in government and government-aided colleges mandatory. Madhuja Sen Roy, SFI state president, said: “We have already protested against a section of TMCP leaders who are indulging in corruption by taking cut money for admissions in various streams. It’s good that the government has finally taken the decision to make the admission process online for the last two years. We have seen that TMCP leaders charged Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000 for enrolling a student in their respective streams in government and government-aided colleges.”

Even the ongoing CBI investigation into the Narada and Saradha scams are evidence of the alleged corruption that senior TMC ministers and leaders have been indulging in.

Pabitra Sarkar, a senior educationist, said: “Allegations of people’s representatives taking cut money were there during Left Front rule as well. But there is one difference. The Left parties with organised cadre executed this through a well-oiled machinery and the bribe got evenly distributed across political ranks. Lacking in discipline, the TMC has turned it into an uncontrolled decentralised operation whereby the cut money has not been equally distributed among the ranks in the party. This has resulted in internal feud.”

Amol Mukherjee, a senior professor political analyst and former principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), however, said: “On one hand, Mamata Banerjee has risked putting the tag of corruption on her party workers, and on the other hand, she has tried to cleanse her own image. The resulting ruckus across the state for return of cut money has been enormous and, ultimately, the state administration and party workers are facing the wrath of the CM’s diktat. The state administration has to control the law and order situation and also identify the TMC leaders who have not returned cut money to the common people. The culprits are being identified by the people and this may lead to the end of their political careers. Only time will tell whether it’s a calculated move by the CM or one of the many impulsive pronouncements she is known for. Though Banerjee perhaps intended to keep the use of the word ‘cut money’ limited to cuts or commission, extortion by party workers is also featuring in the claims being made by people.”

Biswanath Chakraborty, a senior political analyst, said: “The Chief Minister’s diktat to her party leaders will eventually lead to more infighting within the party and more party workers will leave TMC and join the BJP. So this diktat will backfire. If Banerjee needed to discipline her party cadre, she should have done it internally rather than saying it in public. As the cut money issue is vast, the Centre should initiate a CBI inquiry into the matter.”

Dilip Ghosh said: “The way violence is being perpetrated in various corners of the state after Banerjee’s diktat to her party leaders to return cut money, I am not sure whether the TMC will be able to organise their 21 July programme in the state. No minister can come out and address the public as they might be bashed up by the public. Moreover, on 21 July, we have decided to pay respect in West Bengal to the families of those BJP workers who have been killed by the TMC.”

According to Ghosh, TMC leaders who seek to join the BJP should return their cut money, before joining BJP.

Raising the matter in the Zero Hour in Lok Sabha, MP Locket Chatterjee said on Tuesday: “An ordinary citizen of West Bengal needs to pay cut money to get even a birth certificate. Mamata Banerjee has accepted that her party leaders take cut money. Banerjee had told her party leaders to keep 25% of the amount and give 75% to her.”

Miratun Bibi, a resident of Mangalkot in Burdwan, said: “We have been urging the block president of the TMC to return our cut money we gave for enrolling ourselves in the Nirmal Bangla scheme. I have paid Rs 5,000 to the TMC block president, but I am yet to receive my money.”

Shanto Sarkar, TMC block president of Mangalkot in Burdwan, said: “We have already returned Rs 5 lakh to around 100 families in Mangalkot after the Chief Minister’s diktat to return cut money. Still, many people are yet to receive the amount and we will disburse it within next week.”

Champa Nag, a resident of Bandel under Hooghly district, said: “Binoy Sanhu, a TMC local worker, had taken Rs 5,000 for availing services under the Sabuj Sathi government scheme where students are supposed to get bicycles. I went to his house last Wednesday and asked him to return the cut money, but his wife told me that he was not in the house. On Monday, I gathered some locals who have also given money to this person for some benefits and we all demanded return of our cut money. But we saw that their house was locked and so we had to come back.”

Neetu Ram, TMC panchyat pradhan of Bandel under Hooghly Lok Sabha seat, said: “After Banerjee’s diktat, we are staying at an undisclosed location so that people cannot chase us. Since Banerjee’s diktat, people gheraoed our house and demanded return of cut money. I have not kept the money in my locker. The money that I took has been given to my seniors. How can I return the money now? We don’t know when normalcy will prevail.”

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