As the state was going through a nation-wide lockdown, a scheme, aimed to benefit the labour workforce was formulated by the state government. However, the real benefits, besides being available to some, were also benefited by the functionaries of the ruling BJP party.
When across the state, and especially the labour workforce was struggling to make ends meet, the government, through the COVID relief scheme was ensuring some of its own leaders – mostly lower-level sarpanches and panchas – were able to rip off the benefits.
Goa Lokayukta, yesterday, ordered the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to lodge an FIR against unknown persons who drew off funds meant for the labourers.
Justice (retd.) P.K Misra has directed the ACB to investigate into the covid relief scheme meant for Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW).
The directions of the Lokayukta, which come as a major embarrassment to the state government, has also stated that if the role of high-ranking officials and politicians are found, the investigation must be handed over to the CBI.
Misra, who co-incidentally retires today, has come down heavily on this alleged scam and has also advised the CAG to look into the functioning of the Labour Welfare fund.
The Labour minister Jennifer Monserrate had announced an offer of Rs 6000 to labourers as part of a covid relief fund. However, it later surfaced that several sarpanches and BJP cadre members were identified as beneficiaries in this scheme. Also, most beneficiaries were from Chief Minister’s constituency areas of Sankhalim and Bicholim.
A complaint was then filed with the Lokayukta by the Goa Forward Party (GFP) alleging that the state government had misused this scheme to divert funds to local sarpanches and BJP functionaries.
Justice (retd.) Misra has asked the role of labour inspectors to be investigated and also the private firm that was in charged to register the BOCW.
During the case hearings, the Labour commissioner repeatedly failed to provide credible answers before the Lokayukta and kept seeking additional time.
This entire alleged scam unfolds at a time when the state has been reeling under an economic situation for long. The coronavirus pandemic has just been actively made a stogie for all the problems erupting in the state.
When the scheme was meant to reach out to the most vulnerable, at a time when almost all labour workforce was struggling, the government – through certain officials – cast a scam within this too.
The Chief Minister, reacting to the Lokayukta’s order said, “I will go through the file, study it, and then take a decision.”
The Labour minister too reiterated the same, claiming that she hasn’t gone through the order yet.
The order by Misra also mentions that the investigating agency must conduct random sample checks of all beneficiaries of the scheme to determine how many of them are genuine, their real occupation, and also what prompted them to register as labourers.
BJP Spokesman Sidhart Kuncalienkar said that this order is a warning to the BJP to mend its ways, passing the buck saying that ‘scams have been a nemesis of the Congress in Goa and India.’
Meanwhile, GFP Vijay Sardesai said, “If the fodder scam of Bihar was about non-existent livestock, the labour gate (scam) in Goa is about non-existent labourers.”