POLITICAL AUDIT: Cup with not-so-cheerful bill – in two years, Rs 7 lakh spent on tea

POLITICAL AUDIT: Cup with not-so-cheerful bill – in two years, Rs 7 lakh spent on tea – 1.5 to equal 3 ?!!

A Baboo enjoys shlurping his tea - tea to be audited, drinks for free ?!! (–KPN)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Raiganj, Aug. 25: A storm over a tea cup.

The cup of cheer is only for visiting dignitaries and senior officials, the North Dinajpur zilla parishad has announced, but only after spending Rs 7 lakh on tea in the last two financial years.

The bill has created quite a stir in the district, and the CPM has shot off a complaint against the Congress-run zilla parishad to panchayat minister Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Additional district magistrate Dibyendu Das, who is also the additional executive officer of the zilla parishad, said there were many visitors to the office, and regular meetings with panchayat representatives. “Serving tea is the minimum gesture of courtesy to the guests. But it has come to our notice that during 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, the expense on tea had been Rs 7 lakh,” Das said.

He said a list of meetings and training sessions held during the period was being compiled to find out how the expense was chalked up. After the expense was discovered last week, an emergency meeting was convened and it was decided that the zilla parishad would not spend a single paise on tea. “Later the decision was altered and now only high-ranking officials like the district magistrate, additional district magistrate, subdivisional officers, ministers, MPs and MLAs will be served tea,” the official said.

District magistrate Sunil Dandapat said it was difficult to estimate the amount spent on tea off hand, as individual departments pay from their contingency funds.

However, as far as the civic office is concerned, Ronoj Das, the Congress vice-chairperson of the Raiganj municipality, said tea was served only in his and the chairperson’s chamber.

“Both of us share the expenses, and pay from our own pockets for the amount that comes to around Rs 10,000 a month,” he said.

The district secretary of the West Bengal Panchayat Employees’ Association,Debol Das, said there were about 60 employees in the zilla parishad.

“At one time, it was a regular practice to have tea at government expense. However, when we found out in 2008-2009, that a large amount was being spent on it, we stopped drinking tea and paid from our own pockets. We demand an inquiry into how over Rs 3 lakh was spent under the same head in the next financial year,” he said.

Sitesh Das, the owner of a snacks stall from where tea is usually supplied to the zilla parishad in Karnojhora, said he charged Rs 2 for a cup.

“But I don’t supply during training programmes and meetings. Those stalls, which sell only tea, get the contract for example for Rs 300 for hundred cups at the rate of Rs 1.50 per cup,” he said.

The zilla parishad, 3km from here, pays the tea stalls from its “own funds”.

A CPM district secretariat member Subir Biswas alleged that while the zilla parishad was making excuses that it had no funds to aid drought-hit jute farmers, it spent Rs 7 lakh on tea in two years. “We have complained to the panchayat minister.”

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