Stark difference: MGNREGS demand in West Bengal plummets on paper, but villagers say desperate for work

Work demand dropped to 2.4 million in 2022-23 from 13.2 million 2020-21

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Wednesday 26 April 2023
MGNREGS, introduced in 2005, serves as a lifeline for rural workers. Those registered can demand up to 100 days’ work with an average income of Rs 213 daily. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware
MGNREGS, introduced in 2005, serves as a lifeline for rural workers. Those registered can demand up to 100 days’ work with an average income of Rs 213 daily. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware MGNREGS, introduced in 2005, serves as a lifeline for rural workers. Those registered can demand up to 100 days’ work with an average income of Rs 213 daily. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware

This is a ground report from seven villages in Purulia and Bankura districts in West Bengal. 

The government data on demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has seen a significant drop in recent years. Ground visits by Down To Earth (DTE) show the situation is starkly different as millions of workers in West Bengal await work and even wages from 2021. 

The central government, on December 21, 2021, invoked the Section 27 of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGREGA) and suddenly stopped funds for the scheme. Additionally, it stopped commissioning work under the Act in June 2022.

For the fiscal year 2020-21, over 13 million people worked under the scheme in the state, which dropped to 12 million in 2021-22. After the Centre froze funds, the demand dropped significantly to just 2.4 million. The work demand stands at just 4,443 for 2023-24, according to the data gathered on April 25, 2023. 

Work demand in West Bengal


Number of job card holders asking for work









However, registered job card holders in Purulia and Bankura districts said they are desperate for MGNREGS work to restart in the state. A year of no work has pushed many into starvation and chronic poverty as they have not been able to find a sustainable livelihood. 

Shivnath Tudu, a worker from Bandardiha village in Purulia, said MGNREGS work was enough to support his family’s extremely modest life. “But now we are struggling for food, clothing and shelter. We cannot even buy fodder for our cattle,” he said.

Tudu urgently needs to receive his wages pending since 2021. “We worked for the wages and it is our right to demand the money. We want to work more. Depriving us of opportunities is injustice,” he said. 


Read more: Mandatory digital attendance for MGNREGS will destroy it, activists warn

Phirphiri Mahato from Manguria village, Purulia has not received her pension for over two months. “MGNREGS was the only lifeline when crisis like this struck earlier. The pandemic has dried our savings and rations. Our borrowing power on credit has also been exhausted as no one wants to lend us money even on interest,” the 45-year-old said, adding villagers need MGNREGS jobs more than ever. 

The government website only shows the registered demands for work, Rajendran Narayanan, faculty at Azim Premji University and researcher at LibTech India, said regarding the difference between the government data and on-ground reality. 

“There is a drop in the registered demands. In economic terms, this is translated from the felt demand, not the actual demand made by people on the ground,” he said.

However, as the felt demand is higher but not translated, it still has deteriorating effects on the economy.

“People in rural areas do not have enough money to spend and support the local economy. Their spending is directly proportional to earning capacity. Such people withhold and often consume less in terms of food, clothing and other necessities,” he said.


Read more: Dying for ration: Denied full benefits, 62-year-old widow eats a meal a day to survive

Withholding funds is a direct attack on the constitutional rights of the workers, Nikhil Dey, founding member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS), said. “As per the provisions, the workers should be paid compensation for each day’s delay. But instead, the central government is punishing them,” he said.

MGNREGA mandates every worker who demands work should be given one within 15 days, Dey added. If they are not given work, the government should pay unemployment wages. No laws are being followed in any of the cases, he said. 

A petition regarding this had been filed with the High Court, said Anuradha Talwar from the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samiti, West Bengal. “However, the petition was directed to the district collector to assess and issue Fund Transfer Orders (FTO).

“The move will not help as the authority to release funds is with the central government,” she said. 


Read more: Lack of MGNREGS work driving migration in rural West Bengal

In March 2023, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna at Red Road in Kolkata to protest the payment delay to MGNREGS workers. She also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding the release of funds for unpaid wages in May 2022.

On April 9, Trinamool Congress national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee addressed a public rally at Alipurduar district and announced that they would send 10 million letters to the PM demanding the release of pending funds for the state.

This story is part of a series on the plight on MGNREGA workers in West Bengal.

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