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Unchanged by change: rural job limp
- Work given in Bengal under central 100-day scheme much less than national average

Calcutta, Feb. 16: The amount of work Bengal has provided under the central 100-day-a-year scheme in 2013-14 is much less than the national average, latest data have shown, swivelling the spotlight on a trend continuing since the Left rule.

Although providing work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is a focus area of the Mamata Banerjee government, Union rural development ministry data show that Bengal has given only 26 man-days per household from April 2013 to February 14 this year. The national average for the corresponding period is 38 man-days per household.

Bengal’s performance in terms of creating jobs in rural areas so far would leave panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee in a spot of bother as he was chosen the best-performing minister during the chief minister’s review meeting on December 21 last year.

Mukherjee’s predecessor Chandranath Sinha was removed from the department because of perceived non-performance.

Officials said the failure of the government to generate more jobs under the scheme showed that the chief minister’s initiative to give momentum to rural projects, including the MGNREGA, had yielded limited success.

“Whenever the chief minister visits districts to hold review meetings, she lays emphasis on the MGNREGA. But the figures reveal that it has had little impact,” a senior Nabanna official said.

With less than a month-and-a-half left in this financial year, it appears the government will find it difficult to achieve the target it has set.

“The state had set a target of generating at least 38 man-days per household this financial year. But till February 14, it has managed to generate only 26, with only around 40 days to go before the year ends,” the official said.

The government officials said it would be more difficult to meet the target as the Lok Sabha elections were expected to be declared by the end of this month.

“Most officials will become busy in the election process immediately after the poll dates are declared. It will be tough to carry forward the scheme without the direct involvement of officials,” another official said.

Panchayat department officials said they had expected better performance in the job scheme this year as the new government had made significant improvement in the 2012-13 financial year, but the unexpected delay in holding the panchayat polls had thrown a spanner on plans.

“Last year, we had generated 35 man-days for each household, which is good. But as the panchayat elections were deferred till the end of July, the scheme was hit badly,” an official said.

The officials said that although the job scheme could have been implemented in the absence of panchayat functionaries after their five-year term ended in May, it was “not practically possible” for block development officers to take forward the project after handling their regular work and rural poll-related assignments.

“Had the elections been held in May, we could have focused on the MGNREGA by September as newly elected members need some time to get to know about the status of schemes,” an official said. He added the project got back on its legs in Bengal only in November.

Panchayat minister Mukherjee refused comment on the performance in the job scheme. But some of his cabinet colleagues said they had expected a better show as it would have stood the party in good stead in rural areas ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.