Centre halts MGNREGA wages; Mamata to provide work under Bengal govt

BJP is double-faced, vote for TMC: Mamata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee I File Photo

The West Bengal government is looking for alternative avenues to generate employment for rural job card holders as the Centre has halted the release of funds under MGNREGA scheme in the state.

Wages have not been paid to the labourers deployed under the scheme for about five months now, causing economic hardship to the rural populace — an ominous sign for the ruling Trinamool Congress ahead of next year’s panchayat elections.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly directed officials at an administrative meeting earlier this month to engage the MGNREGA job card holders in state government’s labour-oriented projects to “minimise the hardship”, sources said.

“The rural people who were engaged in MGNREGA works are facing problem due to non-payment of wages for about five months… Until the Centre releases the money, we have to find alternative ways to provide relief to the labourers by giving them employment,” a bureaucrat quoted the chief minister as saying to the officials at the meeting.

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The public works department (PWD), irrigation, panchayat and public health engineering (PHE) are some of the departments being identified by the chief minister for engaging unskilled MGNREGA labourers, the bureaucrat added.

Also read: No state provided 100 days of work under MGNREGA in FY22: Govt data

He said the PWD has asked its executive engineers to identify projects where MGNREGA labourers could be engaged.

Other departments are also taking similar measures, he added.

Since last December, the Centre has not released nearly ₹6,500 crore to West Bengal — ₹3,000 crore against wage liabilities and ₹3,500 crore against non-wage liabilities.

Mamata Banerjee on May 12 dashed a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention for the release of funds.

In her letter, Banerjee pointed out that the common people were suffering due to non-release of funds by the Centre to the state.

“Considering the significance of the projects and the hardships being faced by the common people, I would request you for your immediate intervention and direction to the concerned Ministry to release the funds without further delay,” she wrote to Modi.

Not getting any positive reply from the Centre, she directed the officials to look for alternative means of employment for the job card holders.

The officials, however, said it is easier said than done because the state has 167.04 lakh active workers holding MGNREGA cards as of May.

“To provide employment under state government projects to all these workers is impossible. Only a minuscule number could at best be engaged,” the bureaucrat said.

More than offsetting the economic hardship, the chief minister wants to make a political statement by engaging the MGNREGA workers in state government projects to create pressure on the BJP government at the Centre, a state minister said seeking anonymity.

“Basically Didi (as Banerjee is often addressed by her party colleagues) wants to tell rural workers that when the Centre has abandoned them, she is trying to at least do something to offset their woes,” the minister added.

The move assumes significance as the state’s panchayat elections are due early next year, and rural jobs are likely to become an important poll issue.

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