MNREGS: Guaranteed work, really?

Either no work or no sight of pay under MNREGS, say villagers in Salboni

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Puja Bhattacharjee | November 5, 2012


A road constructed under MGNREGS
A road constructed under MGNREGS

Media for AccountabilityIt’s not easy to find consensus on most issues in India, more so in West Bengal. Right? Wrong. For, that is exactly what we get from nearly 10 villages Governance Now has visited thus far in Salboni: consensus.

Villagers everywhere have the same complaint: MNREGS work is not available, and even if they have had it in the past, the experience over payment isn’t exactly rosy.

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Probe a little further and they tell you that they prefer other work labourer, as contractors release payments immediately.

Over to Mithu Mahato of Nandaria: “I had worked for MNREGS a few months ago but I am yet to receive my pay. I have a family to support, so how long can I sustain by borrowing money? Working as an agricultural labourer, or a mason, is far more practical since I get paid at the end of each day.”

Uttam Mahato in the same locality says he would like to work under MNREGS but he believes employment under it is not reliable.

Sujata Biswas, executive assistant of gram panchayat number 4, Bakibandh, which has jurisdiction over Nandaria, says all development work is at a standstill for now. Reason: lack of funds.

Besides, she says, “The engineer who used to oversee MNREGS work (here) has been transferred. That is another cause of delay.”

As executive assistant, Biswas is a representative of the district magistrate’s office and is present at all gram panchayats. Offering a ray of hope for the locals, Biswas says work is expected to resume after panchayat elections in the state.

The dates for that, though, are still in the realm of a political debate in the state.

Nantu Nandi, gram rojgari sebak of the Bakibandh panchayat, says work is on in four projects at present. “MNREGS work is based on requirement. We distribute work when there is a requirement and at present we have completed all pending work,” he says.

But going by the acute water shortage seen in the area, West Midnapore and Salboni in particular, it could well be argued that digging ponds near the fields could be a way to engage people. On way to Kornagarh, for instance, we find unfinished work on one such pond. Chaya Mahato, who lives in Changsol, says, holding up a bunch of ripe paddy: “Look at this. The paddy had dried up even before they ripened (due to lack of water).”

But Tapas Mohanty, joint BDO, headquarters, shakes his head in disagreement when suggested about work on cutting ponds. “The suggestion for such things should come from the gram sansad,” he says. “We can’t tell them what to do, and where to do those work.”

Stressing that MNREGS work is in progress in West Midnapore, Mohanty admits there was a holdup in payments but says that has been settled now. “There was a delay in release of funds from the Centre to the state, and consequently by the state government to the district. But now everything is running smoothly,” he adds.

But that’s in sharp contradiction to what Biswas and Jaba Singh, head of Bakibandh panchayat, say. “All work under this scheme is complete. (But) payment cannot be settled because we are not receiving funds from the Centre,” Singh says.

At the end of the day, it’s one local-level official’s word against the other, and sandwiched somewhere in it are the likes of Mithu Mahato and Uttam Mahato.

Jayanta Biswas, BDO, Salboni says the banks and post offices play an important role in clearing the dues of the labourers.

“At present, self-help groups are entrusted with the responsibility of master roll verification of the workers. They are not so competent and we need to empower them,” he says.  “The centre wants payment entry on server by a certain time. Due to technical and other reasons there are delays,” he adds. “If the job cards are inactive for a long period of time, issues arise from the bank and post offices,” he says. “The banks and P.O.’s don’t work at the same pace as we do. A delay in data entry by the VLE can delay the entire process. The Management of Information System (MIS) entry by the VLE’s is very slow,” he says.

“On the ground level misconceptions are created either by political leaders or the locals. Many a times workers expect that they will be paid 100% if they do only 60 or 80% of the work,” he says. “Post offices are more often late in settling payments. There are instances where they can’t make so many payments at once.” Biswas says that at the ground level women’s participation in this scheme is very less. Last year 7.5 crore was utilized under the scheme. He agrees that fresh pond excavation can be done to aid agriculture.

He enquires about the willingness of workers to work under the scheme. “Villagers expect that they will be deployed close to where they live and hence be relatively comfortable. It is interesting to find out how many of them will agree to work if the site is far from their homes,” he concludes.

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