Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Action is Inaction

The only action the government of West Bengal seem to be busy with, as it is feeling the heat of being in action for over 30 years ruling the State is: inaction. On 17th December 2009, Shri Anisur Rehman, Minister in Charge of Panchyats and Rural Development, West Bengal announced at a press conference that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which is implemented as West Bengal Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (WBREGS)is being revised and the wages will now be Rs.100 per day from 1 January 2010. What these statements however do not reveal is how the State Government has withheld the rightful arrear payments of NREGS workers of Rs.500-Rs.1000 per job card holder.Wage revision for NREGA has been in the offing since February 2009, when the Finance Minister of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee declared in his budget speech that the central government would pay Rs.100 as wages for NREGA in 2009-10. Rural Development Ministry under the Government of India soon after that asked states to send in request for revision of wages. The notification said 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, several non-profit organizations wrote to the Government, to pay at least the minimum wages of 87.50 as permitted according to the State's law. Some other organizations also took up the matter with the Union government for removing the 100 days cap in view of the drought and spiralling prices. In response, the Central Interestingly, in reply, the Central Government stated that the cap on 100 days could also be lifted, 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 Rupees.87.50 from 2 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 1 April 2009. (Rupees 100 - 81). 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 77.016 million person days. So West Bengal has failed to claim Rupees.1463.304 million (Rupees.19 X 77.016). This means each household that worked has lost Rupees.491 on an average. In December, a further loss of about Rupees 400 can be expected by each household that works this month if they work for more than 24 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. But how is it that there is no administrative problem ever standing in the way of paying arrears to Government employees. We can however be sure that the non payment of arrears to poor agricultural workers who are NREGS workers will certainly not mean an end to corruption. Excuses have many faces, and this is one of them. In stead of raising big noise all over the country about the exorbitant price rise and its impact on the common man, it is time that the Left Front government begins to pay what is rightfully due to the poor.
(Written with inputs from several persons, and a mail from Dr. Prabir Chatterjee)

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