No PMAY funds if...: Centre writes to Bengal govt
The Union rural development ministry has written to the West Bengal chief secretary saying that a spot inspection by the central teams has revealed several irregularities in the PMAY scheme
The Union rural development ministry has told the West Bengal government that the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) funds sanctioned by the Centre in November 2022 will not be released if action is not taken against those who tried to misuse the scheme, state government officials familiar with the matter said on Thursday..
The officials said that a letter sent by the Union ministry last week has told chief secretary H K Dwivedi that the state has to take administrative action against those officers who included over one million villagers in the applicant lists although these people did not meet the criteria laid down by PMAY rules.
The letter also said that a spot inspection by the central teams has revealed several irregularities such as renaming of PMAY to Bangla Awas Yojana, a scheme launched by chief minister Mamata Banerjee in 2016.
The Centre sought has also sought an action-taken report by March 10.
In November, the Centre stopped funds for projects under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) citing misuse of funds. This triggered a tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) ahead of the upcoming panchayat elections.
Laying down of new conditions for PMAY has added to this tussle as in mid-January the Centre said the next instalment would be cleared once the money already sanctioned was utilised.
State agriculture minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay told HT that the BJP is coming up with new conditions and excuses to serve its political interest.
Chattopadhyay said: “The state government announced in January that out of 5 million PMAY applicants, the names of 1.7 million were excluded during scrutiny after the Centre pointed out the anomalies. Delhi is now imposing new conditions that are not part of PMAY. This is being done so that the state fails to implement the project before panchayat polls.”
“The BJP has targeted Mamata Banerjee’s good governance. They think their tactics will make rural voters turn against her,” he added.
Bengal’s minister of state for finance (independent charge) Chandrima Bhattacharya said PMAY funds sanctioned by the Centre in November did not reach the beneficiaries till Thursday.
The TMC government wanted to complete all PMAY projects by March 31. The deadline was set after the Union rural development ministry informed the state in the second week of January that the next instalment of funds would be cleared after utilisation certificates for the money already sent reached Delhi.
On November 24 last year, the Centre sanctioned ₹13,000 crore for building 11,34,000 rural houses under PMAY scheme in Bengal, partially clearing a financial impasse that arose because of suspension of central funds.
The November 24 letter from Delhi said the Centre would pay its share of ₹7,800 crore for PMAY projects provided the scheme is not renamed, new beneficiaries are not added and guidelines on eligibility of beneficiaries are followed.
Sixty percent of the funds under PMAY for rural areas in plains is paid by the Centre while the remaining 40 is borne by the state. Each beneficiary gets a sum of ₹1.20 lakh. In hilly states, the Centre gives 90 per cent of the funds and a beneficiary gets ₹1.30 lakh. Grants are sent directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries to avoid misappropriation.
In July 2022, several officers from Delhi arrived in Bengal to examine the implementation of PMAY and other schemes. The state government had to instruct district authorities to repaint all signboards in which the names of the schemes were changed.
The state conducted a fresh scrutiny of the PMAY beneficiary lists. The first scrutiny was completed on December 31. Villagers who already own houses or do not meet the other 13 criteria for PMAY were found to have filed applications in 2017-18 when the lists of applicants were prepared.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on January 5 that 1.7 million names were deleted during the first scrutiny.
“Our inquiries will continue and more names will be deleted. BJP leaders having two or three-storied houses applied as well,” Banerjee said on January 5.
More teams from Delhi toured the districts in January and February to probe irregularities that had triggered agitation and political slugfest.
Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said: “The Centre is following rules. TMC leaders are making baseless allegations. They are losing public support because of mass corruption in every sector.”