Groundxero | 3rd February, 2024
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday announced that her government would clear the pending wages of 21 lakh NREGA workers of West Bengal from the state fund. She said that unpaid wages will be transferred to the bank accounts of the MGNREGA workers in the State by 21st February.
Mamata Banerjee, the state CM and Trinamool Congress supremo, is on a 48-hour-dharna in front of the BR Ambedkar statue in Kolkata from 2nd February demanding release of “unpaid dues” from the Centre for various social welfare schemes in the state.
The Hindu in a report quoted her as saying to a gathering at the dharna site, “We do not want to beg from the BJP nor do we want their alms. By February 21, we will transfer money to the bank accounts of 21 lakh workers who did not get the money from the central government even after working for the 100-day work scheme (MGNREGA) in the last three years. This is my first step”. Mamata Banerjee said, “The central government is thinking that they will starve Bengal to death. We will not allow them to succeed in that… Have faith in me… I will try to slowly clear in step by step those funds which are still stuck,” She also said that soon the state government will come out with another announcement regarding the unreleased funds for the Awas Yojana.
The BJP-led Union Government has stopped funding for MGNREGA in West Bengal since 9th March, 2022, based on allegations of corruption in the implementation of the scheme. The total pending wages is to the tune of Rs 2,600/- crores, and an amount of Rs 3,000 /- to Rs 8,000 /- is due to each worker on an average in West Bengal. Thousands of NREGA workers in West Bengal have waited long enough for their rightful dues. The workers have met with authorities at all levels, submitted numerous memoranda, participated in peaceful protests and even met MPs and MoRD officials multiple times in Delhi and West Bengal, with little result thus far. The announcement by Mamata ahead of Lok Sabha polls is significant, particularly when pending wages for thousands of MGNREGA workers has the potential to emerge as a major political issue in rural Bengal during the election.
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), which has been leading NREGA workers’ struggle to get their dues, while welcoming the announcement of the Chief Minister considering the interests of the workers, have raised some pertinent questions. In a press statement, PBKMS has asked, “why only 21 lakh workers? The NREGA MIS informs us that the number of active NREGA workers in West Bengal is around 1.4 crore and as of 28th January 2024, a total of 92.6 lakh families possess job cards. So how did the Chief Minister choose the 21 lakh NREGA workers?”
PBKMS has also pointed out that such an important announcement has been made from a dharna manch, and no government orders or circulars have so far been issued in this regard. The union said that workers have heard several hollow promises by the Chief Minister on several occasions, concerning NREGA workers, in the recent past. On 21st July 2023, she had announced from the stage of a public gathering the “Khela Hobe” scheme to offer work to NREGA workers but to date, no government order or circular has been issued. When NREGA workers went to seek work under this scheme, they were made to return empty-handed by the administration.
PBKMS had filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in November 2022 before the Calcutta High Court, protesting the denial of wages to legitimate NREGA workers in West Bengal. On 19th January 2024, during a hearing of the PIL, a four-member committee was constituted by the Court and assigned the task of identifying the genuine NREGA workers in West Bengal. On 8th February 2024, during the next hearing, the term of office of this committee will also be fixed.
PBKMS has demanded that this announcement by Mamata Banerjee from a protest-platform be provided the necessary administrative approval through the Chief Minister’s Office and or the Department of Panchayats and Rural Development, Government of West Bengal. The announcement should also be filed as an affidavit in the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court through the state government appointed counsel before the next hearing of the PIL, demanded the union.
Press release by PBKMSPress release_3rd Feb