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

While Minister cites non-compliance of rules by State, Trinamool MP terms it ‘political discrimination’ ahead of panchayat elections

Published - December 21, 2022 10:33 pm IST - New Delhi

Withholding funds due to West Bengal under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is “political discrimination” by the Union government, the Trinamool Congress said in the Rajya Sabha, as the two sides sparred on the issue in the Upper House on Wednesday.

Invoking Section 27 of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the Centre has blocked payment of over ₹7,500 crore of funds to West Bengal for “non-compliance of directives of the Central government”. Of this amount, the wage liability is ₹2,744 crore. With panchayat elections scheduled just months away in March 2023, the Trinamool is arguing that the Union government had wilfully denied wages to the poor, who hadn’t been paid over a year for the work they did under the scheme.

During the Question Hour in the House, Trinamool MP Jawahar Sircar asked the Rural Development Ministry for details on the States that hadn’t received any funds in the ongoing financial year under the MGNREGS. In response, the Minister of State for Rural Development, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, revealed that only West Bengal fell under this category. Mr. Sircar alleged “gross injustice” against the State, in spite of the fact that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had ordered verification of every job card.

Replying to the question, Ms. Jyoti said the Central government did not “discriminate” against any State. “But there are a few guidelines under the MGNREGA that all States have to follow. She added that the funds were frozen, after the State government failed to send in a detailed response to the questions raised by a Central team that investigated the implementation of the scheme in the State in 2019.

‘Comply with rules’

At Ms. Jyoti’s comments, the Treasury benches shouted “shame” in unison and the Trinamool members shouted in protest. The Minister said the funds would be released if the State complied with the rules. “And since we are on the question of fund disbursal, let me point out that between 2006 and 2014, ₹14,985 crore has been paid to West Bengal and post 2014 till now, ₹94,185 crore has been paid,” Ms. Jyoti stated.

Mr. Sircar said the Minister had made a “very exaggerated and one-sided response”. “This is political discrimination before our panchayat elections,” he claimed.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Mr. Sircar said: “The reply shows that MNREGA funds were deliberately stopped by the Central government on alleged grounds that the State had not responded to all its questions, which is a lie. The other charge is that some enquiries revealed some cases of misuse but this covers a fraction of one per cent of the grants for which 100 per cent funds have been stopped.” He also added that the guilty had been punished and money recovered.

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