A week after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders to return illegal commissions, or “cut money”, extracted from beneficiaries of government schemes, a leader from Birbhum district is reported to have returned a total of about ₹2,46,000 to 141 villagers.Trilochan Mukherjee, a TMC booth president of Chatra village under Koma gram panchayat in Suri II block, returned to each of the villagers about ₹1600-1,700 that he had allegedly taken as “cut money” from Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) payments.Somnath Mal, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader of the area, confirmed that the amount returned was about ₹2,46,000.On Tuesday morning, the villagers gathered at a spot in the village, wrote their names, amount received and signed in an exercise book.“We worked for the renovation of a drain in our village about four months ago. Trilochan Mukherjee had taken money from the payments made to us. Now under pressure, he has returned the cash,” said Arati Mal, a villager. Jadav Mal echoed what she said.“I have apologised to the people and returned the money. I promise I won’t do it again,” Mukherjee told news agency PTI.Mal claimed, “Trilochan Mukherjee kept the money that originally belonged to the locals. Earlier, he used to threaten them if anyone asked for the money he used to keep. But now we have strengthened our party in the area and he had to yield.”At a press conference in Kolkata, BJP Bengal unit vice president Jay Prakash Majumdar urged the people to demand their money back. “The issue of ‘cut money’ was raised in the Lok Sabha on today [Tuesday]. Bengal is earning a bad name,” said Majumdar.Over the past week, there have been protests by villagers in different districts demanding that their money be returned.On June 18, while addressing municipal councillors from across the state, Banerjee had said in Kolkata that those who took commissions must return the money. She alleged that some leaders did not spare even the dead, charging ₹200 for releasing the ₹2,000 cremation money that the state government gave the poor.Though these payments are directly credited to the accounts of beneficiaries, local ruling party leaders allegedly withdraw a part of the money with the help of bank documents, MGNREGA job cards and Aadhaar cards of villagers that they are said to keep with them.“If anyone lodges a complaint that illegal commissions were taken by someone from government schemes, we will hold an inquiry and take necessary action,” said Moumita Basu Godara, district magistrate of Birbhum.