Bengal: Rs 2,744 Crore of NREGA Wages Pending, Workers’ Group Says ‘Rights Violated’
Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: The NREGA Sangarsh Morcha on Monday marked one year of the Centre withholding the release of over Rs 7,500 crore of MGNREGA funds to West Bengal as protest demonstrations took place across the state.
MGNREGA workers in the state have not been paid wages since December 26, 2021, which is a violation of their fundamental rights, the Morcha said. It demanded immediate release of pending wages, compensation for the delay at the rate of 0.05% per day for the entire duration, and initiation of new work and job cards, among others.
The Centre has not released the funds to the state for “non-compliance of central government directives” and invoked Section 27 of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
According to a report by Libtech India, the pending wages amount to a staggering Rs 2,744 crore. It also states that there is around Rs 3,891 crores of perceived loss in NREGA wages from pre-Covid years (April to December 2018 and 2019) and Rs 6,046 crores in comparison to post-Covid years. Among different social groups, Scheduled Caste workers experienced the highest loss due to the stoppage works, the report says.
The NREGA Sangarsh Morcha in a press release said, “The present stoppage of wages is irrational and leads to victimisation of workers who have done their work honestly. It has also pushed poor workers on the brink of starvation.”
It added that although Section 27 of the Act may seem to allow the Centre to order the halt of funds release in some circumstances, “but this provision cannot be read as a licence to stop wage payments to workers who have already worked.” The Morcha added that the workers have an unconditional right to be paid within 15 days.
The Morcha further explained that the fund halting provision under Section 27 of the Act was formulated when the release of funds preceded NREGA work. However, at present, the government pays the wages directly to workers after the work is done.
It pointed out that ahead of Panchayat elections in mid 2023, the stand-off over NREGA funds between the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre and Trinamool Congress ruled state government of West Bengal is “taking on political overtones”. It also pointed out that along with the Centre, the state government also violated workers’ rights by allowing corruption through syphoning of MGNREGA funds.
The Minister of State for Rural Development, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti recently said in the Rajya Sabha that the funds for West Bengal were frozen after the state government failed to send in a detailed response to the questions raised by a Central team that investigated the scheme’s implementation in the state in 2019.
While the state claims that all corrective measures have been taken, the BJP at the Centre is reluctant to release the money before the Panchayat elections, the Morcha said, adding, “In this political slugfest the sufferers are workers who have been deprived of their wages for the past year.”
While encouraging measures to tackle corruption and increase transparency, the Morcha said, “The standards of audits and action taken on audit findings are largely unsatisfactory in the state and across the country. The State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC) and Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) have not existed for the past couple of years. This not only makes a mockery out of transparency and anti corruption measures, but also shows how the GoI is using anti corruption as an excuse while itself violating the Act.”
Additionally, the Morcha made demands that the central government sanctions and transfers the 2022-23 Labour Budget, and takes action against anomalies and corruption in the scheme. It said the state government must start a revolving fund of Rs1000 crores from which immediate
payment of NREGA wages can be done and it will ensure payment in the event of future delays or complications in release of funds.
At the press conference, Anuradha Talwar, Jean Dreze, Nikhil Dey, Parul Saboo and Sanjay Sahni, were present as panellists. Besides, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) commemorated December 26 as ‘Black Day’ with ‘Thaala Bajao’ and black flag demonstrations, road blockade, and public meetings in villages, block and GP offices across eight districts in West Bengal.
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