Centre unrelenting, Bengal to pay MGNREGS workers

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee says wages will be transferred to bank accounts of 21 lakh beneficiaries by February 21; she made announcement at a dharna against the Centre over denial of wages under the scheme

February 03, 2024 04:38 pm | Updated 11:06 pm IST - Kolkata

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a dharna demanding the State’s ‘dues’ from the Centre for various social welfare schemes, in Kolkata, on February 3, 2024

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a dharna demanding the State’s ‘dues’ from the Centre for various social welfare schemes, in Kolkata, on February 3, 2024 | Photo Credit: PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday announced that the State government will clear the wages of 21 lakh workers of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which have been kept pending by the Centre for the past two years., which have been kept pending by the Central government for the past two years. “Their wages will be transferred to their bank accounts on February 21,” Ms. Banerjee said addressing a gathering from a venue of a dharna she had called to protest against denial of wages under the flagship jobs scheme.

The Chief Minister made the announcement on the second day of her dharna against the Centre and said people of the State will not be deprived under any circumstances. The crowd gathered at the protest venue erupted in joy after the announcement.

“In Bengal, the poor people will not be deprived. I am there with the poor people here till the last drop of my blood. I do not have any issues. I will play the game all out and win. Khela Hobe! If all States, frontal organisations, regional parties, and national parties move forward like this, BJP’s assumption that they will continue forever will be hit,” the Trinamool Congress chairperson said.

The decision by Ms. Banerjee came ahead of Lok Sabha elections particularly when the stoppage of MGNREGA work in the State has emerged as a major political issue.

Also read | MGNREGS would continue, but only as a living monument to failure Congress’ failure: PM Modi

This is not the first time that Ms. Banerjee has sat on a dharna against the Centre on the issue. In March last year, Ms. Banerjee had gone on a similar protest at the same venue.

In December 2023, Ms. Banerjee along with a group of Trinamool MPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and urged him to released the pending funds to the State. In October last year, Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee also participated in a dharna in New Delhi and outside Raj Bhawan in Kolkata. Funds to MGNREGA have come to a complete halt in the State since December 2021, resulting in large-scale distress in the State.

The development also comes at time when the Calcutta High Court is hearing a petition on the pending MGNREGA wages in the State. The High Court on January 18 had directed setting up a four-member team for expeditious verification of job cards of MGNREGA on a district-wise basis in West Bengal.

The petitions before the High Court were filed by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari. Anuradha Talwar of PBKMS welcomed the development by saying that that the next day of the hearing regarding the case is February 8. Ms. Talwar said that the State government should inform the court in the affidavit that they are going to pay the beneficiaries who have worked under the scheme. She also raised questions as to how the State government will identify the beneficiaries.

A few days ago, State Governor C.V. Ananda Bose had said that dues to the State will be cleared shortly. “Whatever dues are there will certainly be given, provided the requirements laid down by the Centre are met. [The] State government has given answers to various queries raised by the Centre over the last few months. I also reviewed it at my level,” the Governor had said after meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi.

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