MGNREGA workers in Bengal not paid wages of Rs 2744 crore for a year, report by Libtech India found
The central government has withheld release of Rs 7,500 crore in MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) funds to West Bengal for a year now over “non-compliance of central government directives”, a report released December 26, 2022 claimed.
A whopping Rs 2,744 crore of the Rs 7,500 crore are due in MGNREGA wages to workers, who have not been paid since December 26, 2021, the report by research non-profit Libtech India stated.
The central government has done this by invoking Section 27 of the 2005 Act, which allowed the government to “order stoppage of release of funds to the scheme” in some circumstances.
“But this provision cannot be read as a license to stop wage payments to workers who have already worked. These workers have an unconditional right to be paid within 15 days,” the report said.
That line in Section 27 was formulated at a time when the release of funds preceded NREGA work. Today, work comes first, and funds are effectively released when the central government pays the wages directly in workers’ accounts. Stopping the release of funds cannot be allowed, even under Section 27, when it has the effect of depriving workers of their rightful wages.
The report highlighted that the workers lost about Rs 3,891 crore to Rs 6,046 crore in the form of wages during the current year due to stoppage of work under NREGA.
The figures were reached by comparing the wages that employees would have made between April and December of the current fiscal year (FY 2022-23) if employment generation had been at pre-covid levels (April to December 2018 and 2019) and covid levels (April to December 2020 and 2021), taking into account the average wage rate per day in FY 2022-23.
A fact-finding investigation between July 25 and July 27, 2022 in West Bengal by civil society organisations working on MGNREGA found that the workers have not been paid for the work they have done since December 26, 2021.
Also, majority of workers the team met complained that despite their willingness to work no work has been provided in FY 2022-23 under MGNREGA. Even those who received work have got only six to 12 days of work.
Around 10 per cent of the working households and 11 per cent of the total active workers in the country were from West Bengal.
“The present stoppage of wages is irrational and leads to victimisation of workers who have done their work honestly. It has also pushed poor workers to the brink of starvation,” the authors of the report highlighted.
Among different social groups, Scheduled Caste workers experienced the highest loss due to the stoppage of work. Women workers experienced a loss of about Rs 1,870 crore to Rs 2,758 crore in wages.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had also alleged that the Centre was not releasing MGNREGA funds to the state.
Both the central and state governments are guilty of violating the fundamental Right to Life of workers across the state, the authors said.
“With Panchayat elections due in mid-2023, the Centre-state stand-off over NREGA funds is taking on political overtones. While the state asserts that all corrective measures have been taken, the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre is reluctant to release the money before the Panchayat elections. In this political slugfest, the sufferers are workers who have been deprived of their wages for the past year,” said the report.
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