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West Bengal govt's Rs 118 crore sports club expenditure under the lens

Comptroller and Auditor General pulls up Trinamool Congress government for unusually high disbursal of funds towards sports institutions in Bengal

New Delhi: Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress — in high trouble over financial irregularities in the Sharada Chit Fund case and presence of terror elements in Burdwan — has drawn flak from the Comptroller and Auditor General for distributing a whopping Rs 118 crore to an estimated 7490 sports clubs across the state.

Young footballers practice at a Kolkata maidan. Pic for representation
Young footballers practice at a Kolkata maidan. Pic for representation 

The cash, noted the state's CAG unit, was distributed in phases by the state government's sports ministry ever since TMC swept to power in 2011. The sports ministry in the state is headed by Madan Mitra, a powerful associate of CM Mamata Banerjee.

Mitra, who is rumoured to be involved in the Sharada Chit Fund case, having benefited from the scam, recently got himself admitted in a hospital complaining high blood pressure and chest pain.

But there are chances that officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), probing the Sharada case, could interrogate him in the hospital itself.

And now, this CAG note could add further complications for Mitra. The CAG, it is reliably learnt, has raised questions over this "peculiar disbursal of cash", citing several instances where clubs were registered after they were paid by the sports department of the state government.

Consider this one. Once it swept into power, dislodging the three decades old Left Front government, the TMC identified 563 clubs — an unusually high figure — and distributed Rs 11 crore 26 lakhs.

Then, another 137 clubs were identified for disbursal of a total of Rs 2 crore, another 1614 clubs were identified having received Rs 3 lakh each and another 781 clubs got Rs 1 lakh each. This totaled nearly Rs 40 crores.

Unsatisfied answers
In 2013-14, another 2000 clubs were shown having received Rs 2 lakhs each and 2395 old clubs got Rs 1 lakh each, the amount totaling Rs 63 crore 95 lakhs. This, coupled with a crore or two used for state functions at Salt Lake Stadium, came to Rs 64 crores.

CAG officers, who had a series of meetings with top officials of the state sports department, were at sea because no one could give "satisfying answers about the clubs and what did they do".

The CAG suspects that rules were flouted by the sports department of the state government which offered the cash for construction of club building and purchase of equipment, but ignored — in many cases — the mandatory requirements like bank account, land lease deed or No Objection Certificate from the owner of the land.

The CAG found that as many as 1618 clubs got Rs 2 lakhs each on the basis of recommendation from the local legislator. "On paper, the amount looks less but cumulatively, it is a lot of money," a top CAG official in Kolkata said in a telephonic interview.

The CAG official, who cannot be named under government regulations, said the sports department of the state government has admitted flaws in the cash disbursal
system.

'It's a scam'
Kanti Gangopadhyay, sports minister in the previous Left regime, said: "This is nothing but a scam. During our times, we would only offer financial help to clubs that had their own grounds and building. And that too, we could support only 500-800 clubs across the state. Does West Bengal have so many clubs? And even if these clubs exist, what do they do? Play carom?"

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