Stung by the corruption and nepotism allegations by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and the Left Front over the distribution of relief and compensation for Cyclone Amphan in 2020, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee isn’t giving any chance to the Opposition to point out flaws while managing Cyclone Yaas relief operations.
The BJP’s top leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had turned the corruption and nepotism charges during Cyclone Amphan into a raging issue during the Assembly polls.
Relief for Cyclone Affected
For better management of relief operations, Mamata Banerjee on May 27 rolled out the ‘Duare Tran’ (relief at the doorstep) outreach programme for those affected by Cyclone Yaas. ‘Duare Tran’ camps will be set up in all the affected blocks and gram panchayats.
This camp will function from June 3 to June 18 where the state government will receive claims from the affected people. From June 19 to June 30, all the claims will be verified and from July 1 to July 8, all the cyclone-affected people will get their relief fund directly into their bank account through direct benefit transfer. Mamata Banerjee decided to monitor this personally to avoid any mishandling of funds.
“The entire machinery of the state government will work in a mission-mode to ensure the success of ‘Duare Tran’. No actual beneficiaries should be deprived of relief and compensation,” she had said.
Her initiative drew the attention of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar who praised Mamata’s post Cyclone relief initiatives and tweeted, “Appreciate exemplary commitment in synergy @MamataOfficial in relief #CycloneYaas…Relief and Rehabilitation needs to be transparent, accountable with direct benefit transfer to deserved.”
Before launching the ‘Duare Tran’ scheme, the chief minister (during an administrative meeting) came down heavily on government officials and private construction companies for delay in construction, poor management and poor construction of embankments and roads.
Mamata said, “I want a task force which will monitor all the tendering and execution processes in the PWD and Irrigation Department. Why did the Bidyadhari embankment collapse? It was constructed during Cyclone Amphan in 2020…then how come it was damaged so soon? Let the finance department begin an inquiry. If private construction companies are not doing the government job properly then they will be asked to compensate. Either they will compensate or they have to maintain it (roads, government buildings etc) for three years as per norms. I would like to tell all the departments to utilise money very carefully and logically.”
On Friday while holding administrative meetings at Hingalganj in North 24-Parganas and Sagar Islands in South 24-Parganas, Mamata Banerjee instructed officials to carry out relief operations without any complaints. “During Cyclone Amphan due to a few cases, I had to face a lot of criticism. Please make sure such instances should not happen this time. I don’t want to hear any complaints,” she said.
Allegations Against Mamata
In the run-up to the Assembly elections earlier this year, Opposition leaders, especially the BJP, had alleged that Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and other party leaders were knee-deep in corruption and that Mamata was sheltering those who indulged in ‘syndicate raj’ and ‘cut money’.
They also accused TMC leaders of siphoning money sent by the Centre for Cyclone Amphan relief in West Bengal.
However, Mamata Banerjee always maintained that the BJP was making these allegations for their political interest.
When Amit Shah had said that ‘Didi’ wanted to make ‘bhaipo’ (nephew Abhishek Banerjee) as next chief minister, Mamata had questioned what credentials Jay Shah (Amit Shah’s son) had to hold top administrative posts in cricket.
She silenced her Opposition on May 2, when the Assembly Poll results were declared. Mamata stunned the psephologists as she emerged victorious with a bigger margin (213) than 2016 when she won 211 seats.
Not taking chances
Political expert Kapil Thakur feels that the biggest challenge before Mamata Banerjee during this tenure is to deliver and to set an example by running the government without any major controversies.
After coming to power for a third term, Mamata Banerjee doesn’t want to give any chance to the Opposition while handling critical situations like natural calamities and execution of government schemes meant for the poor and eligible beneficiaries.
The chief minister has clipped the wings of the panchayat in the tendering process of crucial government projects including roads, electricity, government buildings and sanitation projects.
To start with, Mamata Banerjee has decided to float tenders ‘centrally’ and not at panchayat or district level for all the ‘Pathashree Abhijan’ schemes. The Pathashree Abhijan Scheme is a road repair scheme under which 12,000 kilometres of roads will be repaired. The initiative has been after several grievances received through the ‘Didi Ke Bolo’ (tell Didi) initiative.
Among many instructions, the TMC has asked its members to ‘visibly change their lifestyle’. This includes luxury cars, giving contractual jobs to relatives, expensive gadgets, no to violence and hobnobbing with the district administration.
The 2019 Lok Sabha polls had proven the TMC chief’s worst fears. The BJP made massive gains in Bengal, winning 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, up from just two in 2014.
Since then (2019) Mamata was on the back foot amid the exponential growth of the BJP in Bengal. But the saffron brigade suffered a major setback in the 2021 Assembly Polls and now, once again, Mamata Banerjee is in-charge of steering her government forward through more transparency in the governance.