06 April 2011

'A Government That Breaks Its Own Law Has No Right To Rule'

Members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity hit the streets once again on April 5, 2011, at Krishnanagar, district headquarters of Nadia distric, to demand pending wages, work and food. Armed with empty plates, hundreds of women and men surrounded the District Magistrate’s office. Their main slogan was simple: “A Government that breaks its own law has no right to rule”.

The Government, according to PBKMS, has violated the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act by refusing to accept applications for work, by not providing them work and by not paying them wages in time. It had also violated Supreme Court orders on pensions and rations. Thus,
·   1,941 members of PBKMS and its fraternal organisation Shramajeevi Mahila Samity had demanded work for 37,693 days in the past four months, but had not been provided employment.
·   Workers in only 4 Panchayats from 3 blocks were owed wages of Rs 10.24 million – again payments were pending for over 4 months .
·   Workers demanded payment of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.
·   There were serious anomalies in the survey that had been done to identify below poverty line (BPL) families. For example, an entire village (Goraimari of Mahatpur Gram Panchayat in Chapra Block) was missing from the Rural Household Survey list, depriving such families of the entitlements due to below poverty line families. An old man had been given a certificate by the Panchayat Pradhan, saying he was a beggar, but still found no place on the BPL list.
·   There were more than a hundred old women and men present in the dharna (sit-in) who said their pensions had been stopped, because their names had inexplicably been struck off the BPL list.
·   After the furore created in the Supreme Court on the issue of food grains rotting in Government godowns, while millions starved in the country, additional rations had been sanctioned by the Government of India in October and December 2011. These had not reached the ration card holders in Nadia. The PBKMS members demanded punishment of corrupt government officials and ration dealers and immediate distribution of all foodgrain due to them from October.

In earlier discussions and meetings with district and state-level officials, when these problems were brought up, a strange picture was presented to the PBKMS members. It was not that the Government was short of money for creation of employment or payment of wages under the NREGS. The district of Nadia had an unspent balance of Rs 28 crores, but this was lying idle with some blocks and Gram Panchayats (GP), while others were unable to pay wages because they had no money. The district did not seem to have the power to shift the money from one block to the other.

A team of nine persons, led by Bela Adak, Nadia district PBKMS organiser, spent two hours fighting on these issues with Rashmi Kamal, the Additional District Magistrate (General), while over five hundred members of the PBKMS and SMS waited patiently outside in the sun. Members of Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Bandi Mukti Committee (committee for the release of political prisoners), New Trade Union Initiative and many other local organisations extended their support to the dharna. While the PBKMS had invited all political parties, interestingly, only the Trinamul Congress candidate for the Krishnanagar Dakshin constituency and the President of the Town Trinamul Congress came to express solidarity with the people on dharna.

The team emerged to say that the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) had first claimed to have transferred sufficient funds to all GPs to pay for pending wages. However, the team proved that while the ADM had transferred only Rs 5-6 lakhs to a GP, PBKMS members alone were owed more than Rs 20 lakhs in a single GP. The ADM finally agreed to send an officer immediately to every affected GP and to ensure payment of wages within the next four days.  The ADM had also claimed that they were unable to give work or accept work applications as this was a violation of the Election Code. The team forced the ADM to immediately phone up the Election Commission on this matter after which she admitted that she had been mistaken, and issued letters to 12 GPs asking them to give work immediately.

On all other issues, the ADM followed the usual bureaucratic procedure of referring the matter to another department. The issue of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages has been referred by the ADM to her immediate boss, as she does not have the powers to do anything about such issues. Similarly, the District Controller of Food and Civil Supplies has been asked to look into the matter of corruption of ration dealers and undistributed rations, while the anomalies in the BPL list and old age pensions have been referred to the concerned officials.

The dharna ended with the decision to go back to the GPs to ensure immediate payment of wages and starting of new works under NREGS. A meeting with the District Food and Civil Supplies Controller has also been fixed for April 11, while all other issues are also to be followed up immediately.

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