BJD govt in a fix over CBI probe into MGNREGS

The probe has been ordered as per the direction of the supreme court. The decision has provided another opportunity to the opposition parties like the Congress and the BJP to corner the Patnaik administration, which is already under tremendous pressure over several other alleged scams in recent months.

Orissa has become the first state where the alleged irregularities in the scheme targeting the rural poor will be probed by the CBI. And this has also become an additional embarrassment to the ruling BJD which had captured power in the state for the third consecutive time in 2009 after its landslide victory in the assembly elections mainly banking on the ‘corruption free and clean’ image of the Patnaik administration.

In 2007, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization, Centre for Environment and Food Security, had filed a petition in the supreme court demanding a CBI probe into the large-scale irregularities and corruption in the implementation of MGNREGS in Orissa. The NGO had moved the court on the basis of a survey it had conducted in backward districts like Kalahandi, Koraput, Bolangir, Rayagara and Malkangiri.

Affidavits not enough

According to the survey, nearly Rs 500 crore had been misappropriated in the scheme in these districts. The supreme court had directed the state government to file an affidavit on the matter. Dissatisfied with the two affidavits furnished by the state government, the court had sought the opinion of the Central government as to why a CBI probe should not be ordered into the allegations.

In one of its hearings on the issue in March, the court had virtually threatened the Union government that it would pass an order for a CBI probe if it failed to take a decision on the matter quickly. Finally, in the second week of April, the Centre conveyed to the court its approval for the probe.

Apart from the survey conducted by the NGO, what perhaps prompted the court to insist on a CBI probe was two reports prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Rural Development showing misappropriation of funds in some of the districts. Maintaining a brave front, the Orissa government has welcomed the Centre’s decision and has assured full cooperation to the CBI during the investigation.

State panchayat raj minister Prafulla Samal admitted that there could be some amount of misappropriation during the implementation of the scheme but not as large-scale as it had been made out to be. Samal insisted that such irregularities had taken place in other states too. According to the minister, the state vigilance department has already filed 111 cases against 239 officials and non-officials. The Union government had appreciated the manner in which scheme was being implemented, he claimed.

The state government’s clarifications have failed to impress the opposition parties. “All along we had been demanding a CBI probe into the scam. But the state government was trying to mislead the Centre as well as the supreme court. Now the inevitable has happened,” said Congress chief whip in the state Assembly and former minister Prasad Harichandan.

The Orissa unit of the Congress party has demanded the resignation of the chief minister following the development.

Both the Congress and the BJP have insisted that the CBI probe should not be confined only to the districts where the NGO had conducted its survey. Rather all the 30 districts in the state should come under the purview of the investigation. Independent observers are of the view that Patnaik-led BJD government may have to face a tough time in the coming days if the CBI found truth in the allegations.

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