Thursday, December 24, 2009

NREGS Workers In West Bengal To Lose Rs. 146 crores

On 17th December 2009 Shri Anisur Rehman, Panchayat Minister of West Bengal, announced at a press conference that NREGS wages were being revised to Rs.100 per day. What these statements however do not reveal is how the State Governments have cheated NREGS workers of their rightful arrear payments by about Rs.500-Rs.1000 per job card holder.

Wage revision for NREGS has been in the offing since February 2009 , when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared in his budget speech that they would pay Rs.100 as wages for NREGA in 2009-10. Rural Development Ministry (GoI) soon after that asked states to send in request for revision of wages. It said later that it was willing to pay revised wages with retrospective effect from 1st April 2009.

West Bengal Government, disregarding even the fact that the West Bengal legal minimum wage for agricultural workers was Rs.87.50 from 1st April onwards, asked for a revision to Rs.81 only from the Central Government. In protest, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity(PBKMS) wrote on 27th July 2009 to Dr MN Roy , Principal Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Development Department, asking for at least minimum wages of Rs.87.50 to be paid and later on 20th November 2009 asking for Rs.100.

In addition, the National Alliance of Agricultural Worker Unions (of which PBKMS and JADS are members) also brought the issue of revising wages and removing the 100 days cap in view of the drought and spiralling prices to the attention of the Central Employment Guarantee Council through its letter dated 6th October 2009. In response, the Central Government informed the National Alliance that they were willing to revise wages to Rs.100 if the State Governments requested them to do so. The Central Government also stated that the cap on 100 days could also be lifted, again if the State Governments used the funds provided to them under the Calamity Relief Fund.

It has now been notified that the West Bengal Government will pay Rs.87.50 from 2nd December 2009 and Rs. 100 from 1st January 2009. On the whole this means that workers in West Bengal have lost Rs.19 per person day since 1st April 2009. (Rs.100-Rs81). This is a massive loss for the State and for NREGS workers.

Till date the number of person days generated in West Bengal from 1st April 2009 has been 770.16 lakh person days. So West Bengal has failed to claim Rs.14633.04 lakhs (Rs.19 X 770.16 ).

Also so far 29800.35 households have been provided with this work. So each household has lost Rs.491 ( Rs.14633.04 lakhs divided by 29800.35).

In December, a further loss of about Rs. 494 can be expected by each household that works this month. i.e Rs.19 per day for 26 working days.

The Government seems to feel that it is difficult administratively to give arrears. They may also fear that it will lead to corruption and misappropriation. We would like to know if any administrative problem ever stands in the way of paying arrears to Government employees. We would also like to know if the non payment of arrears to poor agricultural workers who are NREGS workers will mean a stop to corruption. We say these are only excuses and we demand instead that the State Government should arrange for payment of arrears.

While on the one hand the Left Front constituent parties are making a big noise all over the country about the exorbitant price rise and its impact on the common man, on the other hand the West Bengal Left Front Government has once again shown that it is least concerned about the plight of agricultural workers. It should be noted here that the Tripura Left Front Government, controlled by the same parties, has revised NREGS wages with effect from 1st April 2009.

Swapan Ganguly

General Secretary