Uncertainty over release of MGNREGS funds for Bengal as tussle with Centre goes on

In December 2021, the Centre invoking a clause in MGNREGS stopped funds for West Bengal. Out of ₹7,500 crores that it owes to the State, ₹2,744 cores account for just labour wages.

March 06, 2023 04:56 pm | Updated March 07, 2023 09:51 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Centre has been withholding MGNREGS funds for the State since December 2021. File 

The Centre has been withholding MGNREGS funds for the State since December 2021. File  | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are likely to be withheld for West Bengal in the upcoming financial year, with no resolution to the Centre-State’s tussle over the violation of rules in the implementation of the scheme.

Invoking section 27 of the NREG Act, the Centre has been withholding funds for the State since December 2021. 

West Bengal is the only State in the country against whom this section was invoked. The centre owes ₹7,500 crores out of which the labour wages amount to ₹2,744 crores.

Section 27 of the Act says that, “the Central Government may, on receipt of any complaint regarding the issue or improper utilisation of funds granted under this act in respect of any scheme if prima facie satisfied that there is a case, cause an investigation into the complaint made a by any agency designated by it and if necessary, order stoppage of release of funds to the scheme.”

The section, however, also states, “appropriate remedial measures for its proper implementation within a reasonable period of time” has to be taken.

Senior officials at the Union Ministry of Rural Development said that the section was invoked only after three years and several warnings were given by the Centre, which the State ignored without giving any cogent explanation or taking any remedial measures.

The State submitted an action-taken report in September last year, which the Union Ministry returned to the State Government seeking further clarification. The State again sent a revised reply in December last year.

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So far, the Centre has neither asked for additional clarifications nor has it accepted the State’s report disposing of the issue.

Sources said, as part of the series of meetings, that the Union Ministry is holding with the State Governments, the West Bengal administration has been called on March 13 to present their demand for the next financial year. “The reply filed by the State Government in December is only partially satisfactory. We cannot give them a clean chit just yet,” a senior official said.

The West Bengal administration meanwhile is hoping that the issue will be resolved at the earliest. “We have complied with all directions and submitted all reports that they had asked for. Since they are not asking for any further clarification, we presume they have accepted it,” a senior official in West Bengal government said.

Roughly, each year, 10% of the total MGNREGS budget is allotted to West Bengal.

Last week, MGNREGS workers from the State, many of whom haven’t been paid for the work they have done for more than 15-18 months, took part in the 100-day-long dharna being organised by the NREGA Sangarsh Morcha at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Even if there were violations, no State Government official, who is the implementing authority was punished or held accountable; instead, it is the workers who have to suffer wage loss, Aruna Roy, an activist and one of the key architects of the act, said at a press conference recently in Delhi.

Akali Sarkar, a MGNREGS worker from Dakshin Dinajpur who was here in Delhi to participate in the protest, summed up the frustration that many like her have aired. “Mamata says, [Prime Minister] Modi says Mamata ate all the money. I don’t know who is speaking the truth. All I know is we are denied our rightful wages and left with begging to meet the ends,” Ms. Sarkar said.

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