24 April 2012

8 PBKMS Members Arrested For Standing Up To Corruption

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity strongly condemns the unreasonable and unwarranted arrest of 8 Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) workers from Lakhanpur Gram Panchayat (GP), Hura Block , Purulia district on 23 April 2012. This arrest is a means by which the administration and Panchayat want to suppress any protest against their own corruption and illegality in implementation of MGNREGS.

The latest action by PBKMS members was to stop the use of machines and contractors in moving earth in Lakhanpur GP in an NREGS scheme. The workers had in February and March twice sent back earthmover machines brought in by a contractor. When a third attempt was made, 463 workers voluntarily shifted the earth, thus causing loss to the contractor and all those who would have got a commission out of this gross misuse of MGNREGA funds. Vested political leadership had threatened to file cases against PBKMS leaders at that time itself.

The facts of the present case are as follows: 99 workers applied for MGNREGS work in Lakhanpur GP of Hura block. They were given the work of making a road in Khoiripira upto the Nadighat. On 23 April 2012, the workers found that they were being asked to spread the earth being brought by two tractors on the new road. They complained to the supervisor that if this meant that their work would be measured according to the quantity of earth that they spread, this would mean too little for each worker and they would therefore not earn minimum wages for the day’s work. The supervisor was not able to tell them the rate at which they would be paid, so they decided to ask the Panchayat for an explanation.

When all 99 of them reached the Panchayat, they found the Pradhan absent. No one else was willing to give them an answer, so the workers began a peaceful dharna (sit-down strike) in front of the GP office with their baskets, spades and pickaxes. The dharna began at 11 a.m. and continued till 6 p.m., with no one willing to address the workers’ problems. At around this time, the PBKMS district secretary, Mohan Mahato, himself an NREGS worker from that Gram Panchayat, who had heard about the problem came to the GP office to enquire about what had happened. Soon after, a large number of policemen came and arrested Mohan and 7 other workers.

After this, the PBKMS State Treasurer, Uttam Gayen and many others from the State Committee tried calling up the Officer in Charge (OC), Hura Police Station, and the Block Development Officer (BDO) to find out why the 8 workers had been arrested. Our phone calls were ignored. Uttam Gayen went to the Police Station to find out what the problem was, but the OC refused to meet him.

It was from the Purulia district court that we found out what the case was about. The 8 workers have been arrested on charges of obstructing a Government servant.  The case has been filed by the Upapradhan in the name of Biplab Mondal and Chaitanya Mahato, leaders of the PBKMS who were not even present at the spot, and Mohan Mahato, who arrived at the tail end of the dharna, just before the police action started.  The case has the convenient tag of “and others” besides these three, making it easy for the police to arrest whosoever they please whenever they please.

At present the workers have been remanded to jail custody for 15 days up to 8 May 2012, causing huge problems for them and their families, as all of them are daily wage earners. Case details are as follows: Hura PS Case No: 30/12, Dated: 23-04-2012, U/S- 147/148/149/342/186/353/332/506/34 IPC. GR No: 487/12, Dated: 24-04-2012.

The PBKMS would like to raise the following objections about this whole procedure:
Wage disputes over the amount of earthwork done are the most commonplace occurrence in MGNREGS works. If an arrest is made every time a worker raises a doubt about measurement and his/her wages, how many arrests will the administration be making every day?
·       As per the Grievance Redressal Rules under the Act, the first place where grievances are to be raised is the Gram Panchayat. The BDO has also always told our workers to go to the Panchayat with their problems. If arrests are made when workers go to the Panchayat with a grievance, where are workers supposed to go for grievance redressal?
     As per Grievance Redressal Rules, each Panchayat is supposed to have a complaints register, is to receive written complaints and the Pradhan is to dispose of the same within 10 days. The Lakhanpur Gram Panchayat Pradhan and his staff do not even know about this procedure, forget following it. They are therefore lawbreakers. Why should not a case under section 25 of the MGNREG Act be filed against them?
           Two of the accused, Biplab Mondal and Chaitanya Mahato, were not even on the spot when the supposed law and order problem took place. A third, Mohan Mahato, arrived almost at the end, when the so-called “incident” was almost over. How can they be held responsible for the alleged law and order problem? Why has the police filed an open ended case of “and others”, if not to harass any worker who raises the issue of rights under NREGS?
          The Lakhanpur Gram Panchayat has been with the Trinamul Congress since 2009. It is therefore obviously the TMC local leadership that is responsible for this problem. What kind of “change” or “paribartan” on behalf of the TMC leadership does this behaviour entail?

PBKMS suspects that this patently false case has been filed as a means to stop NREGS workers and PBKMS workers from stopping corruption in the NREGS works. We demand immediate withdrawal of the false case and immediate release of the workers. It also demands that proper grievance redressal procedures be put in place for NREGS complaints as per the Grievance Redressal Rules.