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Police Crack Down on People Protesting PM Awas Yojana Corruption in Bengal, Woman Disrobed

Protests erupted after the list of PMAY beneficiaries was found to be having names of those with political connections and pucca houses.

Kolkata: Throughout West Bengal, the Awas Yojana protesters have been facing police crackdown. In the latest, on December 30, the police lathi-charged around 200 people protesting against the erroneous Awas Yojana list, which excluded eligible beneficiaries from lower-income sections.

The protesters, earlier led by the Nandakumar area committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in East Medinipur district, had gheraoed the local BDO office. The police waited for the evening to set in and then barged into the demonstration venue. 

In one instance, a female protester, Arjuna Biwi, was disrobed in public while being dragged away by a female cop. Biwi had come to the BDO office to seek a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). 

Protests erupted across the state after the list of beneficiaries under the PMAY was published. The list of beneficiaries at various places reportedly includes those who do not qualify to avail of the scheme, including relatives of elected panchayat officials and those with pucca and multi-storied houses. 

After the crackdown on protesters from Nandakumar village, the police went to the local CPI(M) party office and allegedly beat the party’s district secretary Niranjan Sihi and took him away in a police van for taking part in the demonstration at the BDO office. The police also broke the window panes and the doors of the CPI(M) area committee office.

Large-scale anomalies have been found in the different Awas Yojna lists in West Bengal. The lists have allegedly been fudged by the selectors (local elected representatives) in exchange for money. The majority of the local elected representatives in the state belong to the ruling Trinamool Congress. More than Rs 1,000 crore is estimated to have changed hands as the elected representatives took over Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 from each Awas Yojana recipient, who did not qualify for the scheme but could pay the hefty amount.

To be able to avail of the PMAY, the applicant or other family members cannot have a pucca house in any part of the country. The Mission aims to provide urban housing to the economically weaker sections (EWS) or lower income group (LIG) population, including the slum dwellers, by 2022. However, a new year has arrived with a sizeable poor population left out of the scheme.

In a recent case that has been termed an “institutional murder”, an ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) worker in Swarupnagar of North 24 Parganas district was found hanging from a tree adjacent to her house. The ICDS worker, Reba Biswas, was allegedly harassed while evaluating PMAY beneficiaries in her village.

According to some villagers, Biswas was facing threats from the bigwigs of the local ruling party, the TMC, of dire consequences if she exposed the names of Awas Yojana fund recipients who already have two or three-storeyed houses in their name.

Biswas was reportedly undergoing depression after getting threatening calls, one of which went to the extent of threatening to throw her before a running bus if she did not comply with the list of Awas Yojana recipients and certify that all those who have got funds for houses under the scheme were “bonafide” beneficiaries, claimed local sources.

As the local elected panchayat members are instrumental in giving out Awas Yojana funds, the fiercest resistance everywhere has come from them. They mostly belong to the ruling party, which has been accused of corruption in making the list of recipients.

Meeting with the press in Kolkata, CPI(M) state secretary MD Salim condemned the police brutality on the unarmed protesters in Nandakumar. On behalf of the party, he warned the government of both legal fights and street struggles in this regard. 

Salim was accompanied by Niranjan Sihi, district secretary of the CPI(M) in the East Medinipur district. Sihi told the press about the "police atrocity" on the protesters. CPI(M) leader Dr Sujan Chakraborty, in his take, condemned the attitude of the police in reigning peaceful political movements in the state. The leaders also targeted Manoj Kumar Jha, the officer in charge of Nandakumar police station for the police excesses done in the evening in the demonstration venue and then on unarmed protesters in the police station. 

Speaking about the incident with protester Arjuna Biwi, the Left leaders said she was not only disrobed and beaten up at the demonstration venue but also the police station. "Where is human rights now?" they asked in unison at the press conference.

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