MP to buy hills hearse, ambulance – Jaswant empties coffers

The Telegraph
VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, May 5: Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh has promised his constituency an ambulance and a hearse as his personal contribution, as his Local Area Development (LAD) funds are almost exhausted.

Singh’s gesture is in sharp contrast to more than Rs 1.7 crore of the LAD funds unspent by two hill MLAs.

“As far as the MPLAD funds are concerned, there are limitations. There is only a certain amount. I want to provide an ambulance, not from my MPLAD funds. I have also been told that there is no hearse here and I intend to offer that also,” Singh told The Telegraph.

Having already sanctioned 18 projects together worth Rs 1.9 crore, Singh has very little left in his kitty, which is Rs 2 crore a financial year.

The Darjeeling MP might have done his bit for the constituency, but the people are still losing out on public funds because of the ongoing turmoil in the hills.

According to official sources, Shanta Chhetri and Goulan Lepcha, MLAs from Kurseong and Kalimpong respectively, have not been able to utilise their LAD funds.

“Around Rs 70 lakh of the Kalimpong MLA’s funds is lying unutilised, while Shanta Chhetri has around Rs 1.08 crore unspent,” said an official who did not want to be named.

An MLA gets an annual grant of Rs 50 lakh.

“About a year ago, the MLAs changed the executing agency (for the projects undertaken using the funds) from the DGHC to the Darjeeling district magistrate’s office, where the unspent amounts have accumulated,” said the official.

Observers believe that given the current political situation in the hills, most people are unwilling to go to the MLAs with proposals. “Not many people are forthcoming to use the MLA funds,” said an official.

Chhetri, who is a three-time GNLF MLA from Kurseong, was forced to flee her hometown after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had forced her party chief Subash Ghisingh to resign as the DGHC administrator in March 2008.

On the other hand, Lepcha had resigned from the GNLF as soon as the Morcha started gaining popularity in the hills, along with the Darjeeling MLA, Pranay Rai.

However, both Lepcha and Rai have not joined any political party since, but they frequently raised the issue of Gorkhaland in the Assembly while remaining unattached members.

The duo were also able to gain public sympathy for relentlessly raising the issue in the Assembly. Even the Morcha has taken a non-confrontational attitude towards Rai and Lepcha.

However, the same cannot be said of Chhetri. The Kurseong MLA’s house was torched and she was allowed to enter the hill town only when her husband was on the death bed, almost two years after being forced out of the hills.

Although Chhetri had pointed finger at the Morcha for the arson, the hill party denied any role and said the incident was the result of the public’s spontaneous outburst.

Officials said the MLAs’ funds would lapse if the amount remained unutilised till the end of their five-year term.

Chhetri, speaking over the phone from Calcutta, admitted that she could not release a large amount of money from her funds.

“It is sad that the public funds cannot be utilised. Given the present situation in the hills under the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, nothing is moving. However, I have been able to utilise some funds at a few places,” added Chhetri.

However, unlike the Kurseong and Kalimpong MLAs, Rai has sanctioned many projects and released funds.

Some of the MPLAD schemes which have been sanctioned by Singh include the setting up of a vocational training and sewing centre at Simkuna, 3rd Mile, construction of community halls at Rose Bank and Upper Rajbari in Darjeeling; and an auditorium for the Gorkha Dukha Niwarak Sammelan, development and construction of Swami Vivekananda Primary School and the establishment of a Himalayan Museum at the Manjushree Culture Centre in Darjeeling.

“I am still amazed that there should be shortage of drinking water in Darjeeling. This is because of mismanagement by the government and water mafia,” said Singh.

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www.kalimpong.info

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