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Rs 1100cr rural dues pop up before polls

Calcutta, March 26: Mamata Banerjee has instructed the panchayat department to request Delhi for funds under the 100-day job scheme after it emerged that payments to the tune of Rs 1,100 crore was yet to be made to rural beneficiaries.

Nabanna sources said the backlog in payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was discussed at a review meeting on Monday. According to the sources, the chief minister expressed her unhappiness at the failure to make payments and told panchayat department officials to do whatever they could to ensure that funds were released at the earliest.

“The chief minister has reasons to be worried as delay in payment of dues could become an issue in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls and hurt the ruling establishment,” a senior state government official said.

He said Mamata instructed Saurav Das, the panchayat department secretary, to go to Delhi to get some funds released.

The sources said it emerged at the meeting that the panchayat department needed Rs 1,250 crore to clear the backlog but had only Rs 150 crore.

“We need at least Rs 1,100 crore from the Centre to clear the dues of villagers. But it appears we will not get the money before the next financial year as the Centre has informed us that it has exhausted the funds allotted for the scheme,” a senior panchayat department official said.

State government officials said the administration needed to pay beneficiaries in 18 districts but the situation was particularly bad in Hooghly, Nadia and West Midnapore. The government needs Rs 100 crore to clear the backlog in each of the three districts.

Trinamul leaders said that during campaigning, they were facing uncomfortable questions from scheme beneficiaries who were yet to be paid.

“It is getting tough for us with each passing day. We are finding it difficult to make villagers understand that funds for the project come from Delhi. As the rural bodies implement the 100-day job scheme, they villagers think the panchayats release the funds,” a Trinamul MLA said.

The state government officials said the Centre couldn’t be blamed solely for the situation.

“At the beginning of a financial year, the Centre gives a chunk of the money allotted under the scheme. The state can seek more funds only after it spends around 70 per cent of the amount released earlier. This year, the Centre had sent around Rs 1,000 crore under the scheme,” an official said.

The state, the sources said, failed to use the funds on time and the demand for further allotment could be placed only in the last two quarters of this financial year because of the delay in holding the panchayat polls.

“Work under the scheme actually started in November and it gained momentum in January and February. But by the time we sought more funds, the Centre had exhausted the money set aside for the scheme as other states had made timely claims,” the official said.

The officials said the cash crunch made it impossible for the state government to release Rs 1,100 crore from its own coffers and get it reimbursed by the Centre.

State panchayat department officials hoped they would be able to pay some of the beneficiaries as the finance department had promised to release Rs 200 crore soon.