TMC govt has full knowledge of Shajahan Sheikh's whereabouts: Sitharaman

Hitting out at the TMC government over 'deteriorating law and order' in the state, Sitharaman said she is petrified by 'crimes and incidents of sexual abuse' that took place in trouble-torn Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district.
Last Updated 27 February 2024, 19:13 IST

Kolkata: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday claimed that the West Bengal government is fully informed about the whereabouts of absconding TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh of Sandeshkhali, as the ruling party has made a prediction of his arrest within seven days.

Hitting out at the TMC government over “deteriorating law and order” in the state, Sitharaman said she is petrified by “crimes and incidents of sexual abuse” that took place in trouble-torn Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district.

“My body shakes as I speak about Sandeshkhali and its crimes, and the audacity of the state administration in not arresting the culprit till today. Can any leadership bear with this? “They (the TMC) were very vocal about violence in Manipur. The Union home minister himself went there and spoke to the people, and immediate action was taken,” she said, addressing a programme here.

The riverine Sandeshkhali area -- situated on the borders of the Sundarbans, about 100 km from Kolkata -- has been on the boil for more than a month with protests against Sheikh and his supporters, accused of sexual abuse and land grab in the area.

“And what is the statement that we get here, that the culprit will be arrested within a week? That means you know where the person is, that is why you are confident about his arrest. Your (TMC) ministers are going there, but the opposition is not allowed there; this speaks of the law and order situation in the state,” Sitharaman said.

She was referring to a statement by the TMC leadership on Monday, which said Sheikh would be arrested within the next seven days, after the Calcutta High Court clarified that there has been no stay on his arrest.

Sheikh has been absconding since a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate officials during a raid at his residence at Sandeshkhali in connection with an alleged ration scam, on January 5.

The finance minister also said that the ruling Trinamool Congress was depriving the poor of the benefits of central government schemes for the “sake of politics”.

She claimed that issues like 'poor law and order situation' and 'corruption' are making the state stand out under the TMC rule.

Accusing successive state governments in West Bengal of “economic mismanagement”, Sitharaman said the culture of syndicated crime and extortion has become synonymous with the state.

On the TMC's allegations of the Union government withholding MGNREGA dues of Bengal, she wondered how the Centre could release the funds 'when there are 25 lakh fake job card holders'.

'They have failed to recover the money (from the fake job card holders) and are now trying to pay from the treasury. This is nothing but cheating the taxpayer. The MGNREGA fund is public money, not private money,' she said, adding that there has been misreporting about several beneficiaries of the midday meal scheme, too, in the state.

'My heart sinks in grief. Now, the state is standing out in 'tolabaji' (extortion). The nexus of corruption and syndicated crimes have ruined the state,” she alleged.

Asserting that the BJP-led central government was working towards making “eastern India the growth engine of the country”, Sitharaman said many Union government schemes have to be “rigorously implemented” so that farmers and fishermen benefit from those.

“Why are you (TMC) denying something to the common people for the sake of politics? Why are you denying Ayushman Bharat to the poor?” she said, addressing the programme organised by ‘Khola Hawa’, a cultural group linked to the BJP.

On the “economic mismanagement” of the TMC government, Sitharaman said West Bengal's rank came down to 23 in terms of growth rate across the country.

“For two decades, the state has been suffering from lower growth. From 2000-2010, West Bengal's growth rate fell to 4.9 per cent and the Indian average went up to 5.5 per cent. In the next decade from 2011-12 to 2019-20, the growth rate further went down to 4.2 per cent while the national average was 5.2 per cent,” she said.

Speaking on 'Viksit Bharat and Eastern India', the Union minister said she had mentioned in her budget speech that the four states of West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar have to move forward for India's growth story to happen.

'That is the kind of emphasis that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given to eastern India. The four groups that are in focus are the poor, women, youths and farmers,” she said.

On West Bengal’s gross capital formation, she said a “large part of the state’s revenue went into debt servicing, which has been a result of policy flip flops”.

Meanwhile, the ruling TMC dubbed Sitharaman’s allegations as baseless.

“She was not speaking like a finance minister, but as a BJP leader. The Centre has immorally withheld our dues. Our government has now decided to clear the MGNREGA dues. The saffron party is trying to hide its failures by making such allegations,” TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh asserted.

The issue of the centre allegedly withholding the state’s dues amounting to Rs 1.18 lakh crores has been a major political issue in West Bengal, with TMC levelling allegations of a financial blockade being imposed on the state by the Centre.

(Published 27 February 2024, 19:13 IST)

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