03 February 2012

NREGA Implementation: Even The Minister Is Helpless In W.Bengal

With barely two months left for this financial year, the West Bengal Government has so far created only 15 person days of employment per job cardholder under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA). The Minister of Panchayat and Rural Development, Mr Subroto Mukherjee added to this dismal picture by telling a delegation of the PBKMS and the Shramajivi Mahila Samity (SMS) that he was helpless. His hands were tied on the one hand by the dictates of the Government of India, whose scheme MGNREGA was, and on the other hand, by the Panchayats, the implementing agencies, who were also not in his control. 

On February2, 2012, the sixth anniversary of the MGNREGA, while the UPA 2 Government organised a VIP-studded programme in Delhi to celebrate its achievements, MGNREGA workers in West Bengal protested to draw attention to non–implementation issues. The protests held were part of a national programme organised by the New Trade Union Initiative, a national centre of independent trade unions.

A hundred and fifty members of the PBKMS and the SMS blocked the offices of the Minister of Panchayat and Rural Development, Mr Subroto Mukherjee and his Principal Secretary, Mr Saurabh Das and demanded a meeting at Kolkata. Similarly, at Alipore, about 400 members, mainly women from the SMS, banging steel plates and shouting slogans, forced an absent District Magistrate to cancel his day’s leave to listen to their demands. Demonstrations were also organised at four places in Bankura district, including the district magistrate’s office. Workers in Saltora block in Bankura arrived at their block office with food and their tools, ready for a couple of days of stay at the block office if their demands were not met.

In all the meetings, the union members put forward their problems of Panchayats refusing to accept work applications, reluctance to issue work orders, late payment of wages, cheating in measurement of work and corruption in the scheme. The Minister assured the delegation that he had already given orders that work orders must be issued for at least 15 days of work at a stretch, instead of only 3-4 days at a time. He also said they were planning systems by which payment would be made within a day or two of work.

As far as measurement and tasks were concerned, the delegation brought up the issue that by new orders issued on January 1, 2012, men and women were required to do the same task. As women were unable to do as much work as the men, there was reluctance to employ them. The Minister claimed his hands were tied by Central Government guidelines which forced them to have equal tasks for men and women, but said they would take this issue up with the Central Government.

To the disappointment of the delegation, the Minister claimed that he was helpless to punish corrupt officials in NREGA cases, though the Department had identified almost 150 such cases. He said he also disagreed with the idea of an “unemployment allowance”, though he agreed it was their constitutional duty to set up systems for its payment.

At Alipore (Kolkata), the South 24 Parganas district magistrate promised to look into two specific complaints of corruption in Pathar Pratima block brought up by the delegation. He also promised to meet PBKMS and SMS members every month to look at specific complaints and to take action against Gram Panchayats that refused work applications or did not give work. As far as late payment of wages and unemployment allowance was concerned, he felt there were policy issues (such as ensuring banks and post offices functioned better for quick payment) which were beyond his capacity.

At Saltora in Bankura, PBKMS members were immediately promised work and told they would not have to stay for long to get work.

Members of the the Shramajivi Sammanvay Samity and Hosiery Workers Unity Centre and the Right to Food and Work Campaign South 24 Parganas, part of the Ashanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch, extended solidarity support.

Right To Food Campaign Convention

Right to Food Campaign
All India Convention
18 February 2012, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
New Delhi

Venue: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 223, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg (opposite Gandharva Maha vidyalaya,
near ITO)

To discuss the critique of the National Food Security Bill 2011 tabled in the Parliament and plan strategy to force the Government to bring in a law that:
  1. Ensures food security to all and the elimination of malnutrition and hunger in children and adults in the country
  2. Addresses production, procurement and storage issues establishing the dignity of the farmers
  3. Provisioning of a universal PDS, 
  4. Provisioning of hot cooked meals with a ban on contractors and ready to eat meals for children
  5. Provisioning of Maternal entitlements which at least subscribe to the wage rates of the State
A grievance redressal scheme that guarantees effective and immediate redressal at the panchayat and block level, with an independent appeal mechanism