A year of MGNREGA imbroglio in Bengal, rights group call it violation of worker’s rights

According to the NREGA Sangarsh Morcha, the Centre has withheld ₹7,500 crore of MGNREGS funds

December 27, 2022 08:30 am | Updated 08:56 am IST - Kolkata

Women MGNREGA workers holding a rally at Puncha block of Purulia demanding to disburse pending wages.

Women MGNREGA workers holding a rally at Puncha block of Purulia demanding to disburse pending wages. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Highlighting that it has been a year since MGNREGS workers in West Bengal have not been paid wages, NREGA Sangarsh Morcha on Monday issued a press statement accusing the Centre of “assault on the NREGA”, which is a 100-day employment scheme for the rural families, and it also exposed the government’s lack of commitment for the workers’ rights.

The last installment of wages to workers in West Bengal was released on December 26, 2021, and since then according to NREGA Sangarsh Morcha, the Centre has been withholding the release of over ₹7,500 crore MGNREGS funds to the State. Out of the ₹7,500 crore, according to the Morcha the pending wages amount to ₹2,744 crore.

Also read: Centre withholding West Bengal’s MGNREGS funds, says Trinamool in Rajya Sabha

The Centre has stopped giving funds to the State under Section 27 of the MGNREG Act which points that the Central government may order stoppage of release of funds to the scheme and institute “appropriate remedial measures for its proper implementation within a reasonable period of time”.

“Both the Central and State governments are guilty of violating the fundamental Right to life of 3.4 crore registered workers across the State. Denial of work and wages is also in contravention to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Swaraj Abhiyan case,” the press statement from NGREGA Sangarsh Morcha said, adding that the development has pushed poor workers on the brink of starvation.

The activists of the Morcha also pointed out that the non-payment of wages has severely impacted MGNREGS in the State with average days of work dropping to 23 for the current year from 63.46 days (pre-COVID) and 49.96 days (post-COVID).

Workers from Paschim Banga Khetmajoor Samity (PBKS), which is an independent trade union in West Bengal, held protests at various places in the State on Monday, blocked roads, held demonstration by wearing black badges observing it as a ‘ black day”.

In West Bengal, the denial of wages to MGNREGS workers have assumed political dimensions with the ruling Trinamool Congress accusing the Centre of discrimination. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had raised the issue several times including during her meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Trinamool Congress general secretary Abhishek Banerjee had raised questions on the State’s MGNREGS dues pending with the Centre. Mr. Banerjee on December 21 while sharing the response to his question in Parliament said that @BJP4India wilfully deprives the people of WB for rejecting them. “Union owes states ₹10,162 crore in MGNREGS dues as on December 14. West Bengal is owed ₹5,433 crore i.e. more than 50% of total dues owed to states. Your numbers not mine,” Mr. Banerjee said.

The BJP leadership has accused the Trinamool Congress of rampant corruption in the implementation of MGNREGS in the State. The NREGA Sangarsh Morcha also pointed out that with panchayat elections due in mid-2023, the Centre and State stand-off over NREGA funds is taking on political overtones.

“While the State asserts that all corrective measures have been taken, the BJP at the Centre is, however, reluctant to release the money before the Panchayat elections. In this political slugfest the sufferers are workers who have been deprived of their wages for the past year.” the press statement said.

Anuradha Talwar of PBKS, one of the signatories to the press statement, said that while they encourage that measures should be taken to tackle corruption and increase transparency the Morcha demands “immediate release of MGNREGS funds by the Central government, with immediate starting of new works and issue of new job cards”.

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