The West Bengal government on Wednesday filed an application before the Calcutta High Court urging it to recall or modify its judgement directing the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to audit cyclone Amphan-related relief over allegations of irregularities. As the process of disbursement of funds is continuing, the direction for audit by the CAG at this stage is premature, the state government said.
It also prayed for a stay of operation of the judgement of December 1 last year passed by the division bench comprising Chief Justice T B N Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee. Claiming that absolute transparency was maintained regarding disbursement of funds, the application stated that direct benefit transfer to beneficiaries' bank accounts was adopted to curb any kind of foul play in rendering financial assistance to the Amphan-affected people in 16 districts of the state.
The state government submitted that the process of disbursement of funds is still going on and as such district magistrates would not be in a position to submit utilisation certificates. Claiming that the office of the CAG would be in a position to carry out the audits only when the process is concluded, the West Bengal government stated that the direction for audit by the CAG at this stage is premature.
In its judgement on December 1, 2020, the division bench had urged the CAG to conclude the performance and financial audits within three months from receiving a copy of the order. Praying for recalling the order, the state government stated in the application that a list of 20.7 lakh accepted applications for house building grants was displayed on 'Egiye Bangla', the official website of the West Bengal government.
It said that a total of Rs 1,948.45 crore, including Rs 1,000 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) released by the Union Ministry of Finance soon after the cyclone Amphan hit the state in May last year, have been allocated towards house building grants till date. It further said that out of the total amount, Rs 948.45 crore was allotted out of the state budget and State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) considering the gravity of the disaster.
The petitioners, in a set of PILs which were heard together, complained that the West Bengal government through its officers had made unauthorised and illegitimate pick and choose of persons to whom the benefits were doled out and that the Amphan relief schemes were not operated in the manner as envisaged either by the Union of India or the state government. The petitioners also alleged that there is no transparency in distribution of relief to the Amphan-affected people in the state and that a large number of real victims of the cyclone were denied benefits under the relief schemes.
Passing the judgement, the division bench had noted that the CAG has the necessary constitutional, statutory and administrative sanction, power and authority to conduct such inquiry, as is necessary, to ensure that there is financial audit and performance audit of the utilisation of the Amphan relief.
The bench observed that this will pave way for the competent authority, either in the central government or the state government or at both levels, to decide the next course of action that should be taken in case of any fault being traced.