The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been facing a crisis since BJP made inroads and won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Several lawmakers and workers have defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party after the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were announced. Leaders of the TMC, however, face a fresh challenge now.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee last week ordered her party leaders to return the “cut money” that they had taken from the people. Cut money is the illegal commission which party workers were allegedly charging from people wishing to avail benefits from government schemes.
Since the CM’s announcement, TMC leaders are being targeted for a refund of the ‘cut money’. Protests and demonstrations are being held across the state. Locals also ‘raided’ the house of TMC deputy pradhan from Mangalkot in Burdwan, Binay Chakraborty. A pregnant panchayat member in Birbhum’s Fulur fled her home fearing attacks.
Mamoni Sardar, a Hooghly resident, paid Rs 550 last December to a local TMC leader for an LPG connection under the Ujjwala scheme. “I thought that was the cost of the connection. I came to know later that I need not have paid any money… I was so angry. Now, I want my money back,” Sardar told the Indian Express.
Cut money: The Rate List
While the confirmation of such a system thriving under Mamata’s rule came when the CM herself asked her party workers and leaders to refund the cut money, a report by The Indian Express has now given out details of how it functioned. According to the report, there ‘fixed rates’ for specific schemes, which ranged anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 25,000. Shockingly, residents were not spared even when they were putting their loved ones to rest. West Bengal government’s Samabyathi scheme provides up to Rs 2,000 for funeral and related expenses, but people had to pay Rs 200 as ‘cut money’ to avail the scheme, said the report.
“Each scheme has a rate, and a network of local political leaders and panchayat members linked to the system. The system, which existed during the Left Front regime, has now become a full-fledged one,” the report quoted a local official in Hooghly as saying.
For seeking employment under the MGNREGS scheme, workers have to pay Rs 20-40 to the supervisor on a daily basis. Workers get Rs 190 per day under the MGNREGS scheme in West Bengal. There are even those who have a job card but are engaged in other professions. These workers have to give 60% to the supervisor to ensure that their attendance is marked.
In Hooghly, a farmer claims to have paid a local TMC leader RS 7,000 to construct a house under the Banglar Bari scheme. “The leader helped me do all the paperwork. But I had to pay him Rs 5,000 and Rs 2,000 from my first and third installments. I want my money back,” Harekrishna Roy told the Indian Express.
Another farmer from Chhatra, Tapas Mal, explained how TMC leaders persuade locals to sign up for government schemes.
“For the housing scheme, they help people open bank accounts. Once the accounts are functional, they take four cheques with no amount mentioned from each beneficiary. When the beneficiaries receive their instalments, the leaders deposit the cheques, one after the other. Any amount between Rs 10,000 and Rs 25,000 is taken from each beneficiary. In my case, after the first installment of Rs 45,000 arrived, Rs 5,000 was taken. If we don’t agree, we are told that the next installment won’t come,” says Mal.
Anger and despair among the residents over this ‘system’ hqave been rising lately. Mamata Banerjee’s announcement on cut money refunds appears to he aimed at quelling this anger ahead of the civic polls in 2020. The polls to the local bodies will be seen as a litmus test for the TMC as well as the BJP ahead of the bigger battle for the state assembly in 2021.