21 November 2014

Boost For Our Struggle: W.B. Assembly Moves Unanimous Motion

On November 20, just a day before it was to close, a unanimous resolution was passed by voice vote in the West Bengal Assembly, asking the Central Government to stop dilution of the 100 days work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity sees this as a small success of the campaign it has been undertaking. Along with other members of the Osonghotit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (The Struggle Platform of Unorganised Sector Workers- OKSSM), PBKMS has been carrying out a campaign to inform its members and the public at large about the Central Government's measures to dilute MGNREGA. Street corner meetings, public meetings, posters and handbills have formed an important part of this campaign. At the same time deputations have been given to BDOs and DMs of various districts in West Bengal.

As a culmination of this campaign, the PBKMS and other members of OKSSM met the Labour Minister, Mr Moloy Ghatak and the Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, Mr Subroto Mukherjee on November 3.  They also met the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, Mr Mohammed Sohrab, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Suryakanta Mishra. We appealed to all of them to get an all-party resolution passed at the Assembly asking the Centre to refrain from diluting MGNREGA. The main points put forward to them were as follows:

· The Central Government's plan to withdraw/dilute MGNREGA in richer areas would mean huge deprivation for the people of West Bengal. If, as rumoured, MGNREGA was limited to the 200 districts (MGNREGA Phase 1 districts) 13 districts in West Bengal would be deprived of MGNREGA benefits.
· The budget allocation for the program has been decreasing in not just nominal but also in real terms over the past few years. From 2009-10 when the MGNREGA budget was 0.6% of our GDP (at factor cost) it halved to 0.3.% of  GDP at factor cost in 2013-14.
· Huge budget cuts have been imposed. Compared to last financial year, till September, there has been nearly 45 per cent reduction in funds released by the Centre to states for NREGA-the sharpest since the inception of the scheme. In West Bengal, the fund release came down to Rs 1782 crore, against Rs 2214 crore in the same period last year.
· The ratio between materials and labour has been reduced from 40:60 to 49:51 for all panchayat works to be maintained at the district level.  With budget allocations constant in money terms, raising wage rates and a larger proportion allocated to material, this will translate into even fewer person days available for workers.
· Instead of taking such negative measures , the Government should concentrate on promoting MGNREGA by correcting anti labour practices such as low wages (wage rates in MGNREGA continue to be less than the agricultural minimum wage declared in West Bengal, thus violating the Minimum Wage Act), delayed payment of wages, non provision of work and unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.

The resolution in the Assembly was moved by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Partha Chatterjee, and supported by 11 MLAs including the Leader of the Opposition , Mr Surya Kanta Mishra, before being passed by a voice vote.

In these days when most news for workers is bad news, the small success against the withdrawal of MGNREGA has come as a boost for our union members, especially when all parties have come together above partisan interests for the worker's cause.

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