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Villagers threaten to move court on wages

Tura, July 14: Villagers of Silkata in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills today threatened to move court if the block development officer failed to address their problems on wage disbursement under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

At least 350 job-card holders have come together to protest against key functionaries of the village employment council and a gram sevak.

In the absence of panchayati raj in Meghalaya, the village employment council acts as a facilitating body for implementation of the MGNREGA. Gram sevak Hussain Ali Sheikh and secretary of Silkata village council Sofiqul Islam are facing the wrath of the job-card holders.

The villagers have filed a complaint with Selsella block development officer D. Roy. Under the scheme, two village roads are being constructed at a cost of Rs 19,78,380 and Rs 19,82,380 respectively. The job-card holders, who have undertaken work for 14 days, said they were paid wages for four-and-a-half days, which comes to about Rs 700. They were supposed to receive Rs 2,030. Of the two roads, work for only one has begun.

“Islam and Sheikh have withdrawn wages for 14 days for all the job-card holders but we have been paid only Rs 700,” said Surot Zama, a job-card holder. Another job-card holder, Nur Zaman, said, “They have processed application for withdrawal of 22 days of wages by forging our identities.”

The work for this road has not yet begun. Zaman also alleged that Sheikh and a technical assistant claimed to have worked together and said that the road has been completed. “The work for this road has not even started. However, they are projecting it to be completed,” said Anowar Islam of Silkata village.

Islam said we have filed a complaint with the BDO and has served an ultimatum for violation of our rights. “This is not the first time that this has happened. In many cases the gram sevak, technical assistant and member of the village council are working together for misappropriation of funds,” said a local leader. The list of beneficiaries also has names of people who are dead. “We have asked for a magisterial probe into the anomalies. We believe that there is political influence, which has allowed the council members to work in tandem. Until a probe is conducted all payments should be stopped,” said Bashirul Islam, a village elder.

“They have violated all norms under the MGNREGS guidelines and taken illegal advantage of the current situation. They have deprived us of Rs 1,330 of our wages, an amount that is significant in nature and means a lot to us,” said Abdur Rafique, a job-card holder.

Roy said, “We have sent not one but three assistant project officers to the council for a cross-check, but for now the information that we are getting is that only about 10 people have not been paid. However, we are still awaiting full details of the report from the assigned officers, which we will submit to the deputy commissioner for further action.”