West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016

The run of the earthmovers, demolishing NREGA equations

DIGGING UP DIRT: Earthmovers are widely used in Purulia, but there seems to be few complaints as those who lose MGNREGS work are paid by their owners.Photo: Special Arrangement  

Raghav Koibarta, 40, of Para block is a relaxed but confused fisherman. Relaxed, as he does not go for work and confused as he is not sure if it is a good idea to bunk work and drink country liquor to while away the time.

“But what is the point of going to work when I am paid sitting at home,” he asks.

Similarly, many of Purulia and perhaps rest of Bengal’s landless and jobless farmers, who were employed till a couple of years ago under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), are asking the question and mumbling the answer too.

“These JCBs [earthmovers] are the culprits,” says Sandhya Murmu of the same block.

The yellow earth-diggers are consuming nearly all the manual work that the NREGA generates. Since almost the entire work is still limited to digging of community land or government land for ponds or levelling of roads, the earthmovers are put to use, defeating the purpose of 100 days’ work, say NREGA activists.

The complex economics was explained by a Zila Parishad [district council] member of the ruling Trinamool Congress. He said the earthmovers were delivering a “win-win economic model” for all in West Bengal.

“Let’s say a farmer gets Rs. 150 a day for 15 days of NREGA work. The JCB owner, who often is the local panchayat member or his cousin, offers the farmer Rs. 500 or a negotiated amount. The farmer takes Rs. 500 [a month] for not going to work, while the JCB owner gets Rs. 2,100 for 14 days of work. If the owner can negotiate with 100 such villagers through panchayats, which is not difficult, he can earn nearly Rs. 20,000 a month,” he said.

The Minister of Paschimanchal Unnayan [development of western districts] Department, Shantiram Mahato, did not deny that there was a “nexus.”

“It is an old disease. It cannot be tackled overnight. But we are trying,” Mr. Mahato said. The Minister, however, said this was a “minor issue” and would not affect the Trinamool’s poll prospects.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 10:03:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/westbengal2016/the-run-of-the-earthmovers-demolishing-nrega-equations/article8430397.ece

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