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Bihar: Thousands of MGNREGA Workers Not Paid as Centre Lags in Providing Timely Funds

The state has a pending bill of more than Rs 1,000 crore under wages for workers due from the Centre and fears more migration if funds are not released
MGNREGA: Nearly 1.5 crore Job Seekers Refused Work Till Now

Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: Thousands of daily-wage labourers, who worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to earn their livelihoods in Bihar, have not been paid for months as BJP-led Central government is not providing funds on time. As of now, the state has a pending bill of over Rs 1,000 crore under wages for workers from the centre. This has created problems for workers as MGNREGA is the sole source of earnings for many of them.

Suresh Manjhi, Harideo Paswan and Lakhan Yadav are landless farm labourers in Dihura and Shiv Nagar panchayat under Tekari block in Gaya district. All three said they have been awaiting payment for their work under MGNREGA since September. They are among thousands of poverty-stricken labourers struggling to survive due to non-payment of wages.

“We are poor. The local Panchayat Rojgar Sewak (PRS) Mukhiya (head) and block-level government officials informed us that funds are not coming from the Central government. We have no idea when we will be paid.” Manjhi told NewsClick.

Paswan and Yadav said the delay in payment discourages many labourers and forces them to look for work elsewhere to earn a livelihood. “A labourer gets his wage immediately daily after working but it is not easy to get wages for work under MGNREGA. We have been waiting for payment since last month,” Yadav told NewsClick.

Taking serious note of this, Bihar Rural Development Minister Sharwan Kumar warned the Centre that this would result in more migration in the coming days from rural Bihar in search of livelihood.

“A large number of workers under MGNREGA have been facing a tough time because they are not paid due to the failure of the Centre to clear pending dues under wages. If workers are not paid on time after they have worked, they will be forced to work elsewhere or migrate in search of work,” Kumar told NewsClick.

The minister said the Central government was “totally responsible” for such a situation because it was not providing funds under wages, which are pending despite repeated requests through proper channels.

“Bihar is not getting funds under MGNREGA. The Centre has been ignoring and discriminating against Bihar after the Mahagathbandhan government led by Nitish Kumar was formed in August. This is another example of the repercussion of JD-U's decision to dump BJP and joined hands with Mahagathbandhan,” he said.

Kumar demanded that the Central government immediately clear the pending bill under wages for workers and increase the budget of MGNREGA for the state. “We would like to clarify that different works under MGNREGA are already affected. If these works are not be completed on time, then the Centre will question us,” he added.

A PRS in the Haspura block of Aurangabad district told NewsClick that MGNREGA provides livelihood to the landless and jobless villagers and helps them live life with some dignity. As they get work locally, MGNREGA is in high demand.

He recalled that MGNREGA was a big hope for sustaining livelihood in rural Bihar during the massive reverse migration due to the pandemic-induced sudden lockdown in 2020 and 2021. Opportunities in other sectors like industries and other developmental projects are limited in the state.

Kumar said the government’s aim was to create jobs in rural areas by taking up more projects under MGNREGA. For poor job card holders, manual work like digging ponds, renovation work of water bodies and the state government’s ambitious Jal Jeevan Haryali mission and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana provide livelihood.

“The state government is serious about continuing work under MGNREGA in more than 8,000-gram panchayats across the state. But the Central government’s delay in releasing pending funds and lowering the MGNREGA budget for Bihar is hindering the completion of ongoing works,” the PRS said.

A senior official of the state’s rural development department told NewsClick that the state has demanded more mandays under MGNREGA because, during the ongoing 2022-23 financial year, the state already exhausted Rs15 crore worth of mandays by August. After that, Bihar got an additional Rs 2.5 crore mandays from the Centre despite the demand for Rs10 crore. “By the end of October, sanctioned additional mandays were also exhausted due to a higher allocation of work to job card holders,” he said.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had repeatedly demanded an increase in the number of work days under MGNREGA from 100 days to 200 days. The state government had sent a proposal to the Centre, requesting it to increase mandays (on shramik karya divas) to provide a source of livelihood to the rural poor.

Bihar has witnessed an increase in the number of people who have registered themselves as labourers under MGNREGA in the past few years. As per the department’s official data, Bihar has a total of 2.24 crore job card holders, out of which 1.09 crore are active workers under MGNREGA.

MGNREGA was launched by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA-I) government in 2005, to provide a minimum of 100 days of employment out of 365 days a year, to every rural household willing to do unskilled manual work.

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