As the Enforcement Directorate conducted its first-ever raids in connection with alleged Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) irregularities in West Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of using the investigative agency for “political vendetta”.
Senior Trinamool Congress leader and Minister Shashi Panja alleged: “See the chronology. The raids were conducted within 24 hours of the Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari meeting the Union Finance Minister and Amit Shah in Delhi. This is a clear attempt to divert public and media attention from the Trinamool’s ongoing dharna demanding clearance of State’s dues. This is a clear example of vendetta politics. Today’s event shows that the ED and the CBI are being used as tools by the BJP. Suvendhu Adhikari has time and again threatened, and accordingly, the CBI and ED are acting,” TMC minister Sashi Panja said.
However, the West Bengal BJP dismissed these allegations as “baseless”. BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said: “The reality is that the Trinamool Congress is deeply mired in corruption, with nearly every leader facing corruption allegations.” Senior Trinamool Congress Ministers Partha Chatterjee and Jyotipriyo Mallick, and many MLAs and leaders like Anubrata Mondal have been arrested by the Central agencies in various corruption cases.
The probe agency’s first-ever raid comes days after the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a 48-hour dharna on Kolkata’s Red Road demanding that the Central Government pay the MGNREGA dues for the 100-day work scheme which have been pending for more than two years. She had also announced that her State Government would not wait indefinitely for the Centre to pay the dues and would transfer the dues of 21 lakh people who had worked under the scheme by February 21 from its own coffers.
ED sources said the agency had conducted raids at six places including a State Government official’s quarters in Jhargram, a businessman’s house in Chunchura in Hooghly, an expelled panchayat worker’s house in Murshidabad and a former block development officer’s residence in Salt Lake.
According to ED sources, the Salt Lake residence of S. K. Pan, a former block development officer (BDO) of Dhanekhali, had also been searched.
The ED initiated the investigation after filing an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) on the basis of five First Information Reports lodged at several police stations in the State, including two at Murshidabad’s Beldanga police station and one at Hooghly’s Dhanekhali police station.
According to ED sources, the investigation has revealed major irregularities. According to the investigating agency, fake job cards were created to collect and siphon money meant for the 100-day work scheme.
For nearly two years running, the Centre’s decision to withhold funds for several rural welfare schemes, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), has been a major political issue in West Bengal.
The issue of pending dues has been repeatedly raked up by the Trinamool Congress, which has accused the Centre of deliberately stopping the release of funds. According to the West Bengal Government, Rs 6,900 crore is due to the State under MGNREGA.
The BJP, however, has alleged that the West Bengal Government had issued 2.5 million fake MGNREGA job cards due to which crores of rupees of Government funds were siphoned off.
According to a detailed reply in Parliament a few months ago, funds under the MGNREGA scheme to West Bengal have been stopped since March 9, 2022, in accordance with provisions under Section 27 of the MGNREGA due to non-compliance with directives of the Central Government. The section was first invoked in December 2021, alleging large-scale corruption and violation of guidelines.