The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal in job scheme mess

New Delhi, Nov. 3: The National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, projected by the Left as a key anti-poverty project, is getting derailed in its own bastion, CPM-ruled Bengal.

A council of Left party members and non-governmental organisations, which visited the state last week, has returned with a flurry of complaints about politicisation of the scheme, even indifference and a lack of awareness about implementation procedures.

Members of the National Employment Guarantee Council, who attended a public hearing in Bengal, said the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is following in the footsteps of most others, killing a scheme that could improve the lives of the poor if implemented properly.

The council said there is a big gap between the demand for employment and the jobs given in Bengal. For instance, over 13 lakh households applied at the end of September and about 11.77 lakh were provided with jobs.

The West Bengal Agricultural Labourers’ Association, an NGO which was part of the public hearing, said political bias is manifesting itself at every stage — from accepting application forms to issuing job cards and then allocating jobs.

Instead of strengthening the scheme, political parties are pushing their own people, hurting other applicants. The districts where the scheme is faring the worst are Malda, Purulia and South 24-Parganas.

The Employment Guarantee Act mandates state governments to provide unemployment doles to applicants if the implementing agencies fail to provide jobs. Bengal, like many other states, is not complying with this provision.

“The implementing agencies do not want to provide unemployment dole because that would be admitting failure to provide jobs,” said a committee member.

In many places, wages are not paid in time. There are cases in Purulia and South 24-Parganas where workers have not been paid. “They have worked for seven days and have not been paid wages even after three months,” said the member. In some places the workers are not even getting the minimum wage of Rs 68.

One of the worst flaws is the lack of awareness among the people. The government has not taken steps to inform the people about their rights. Nor have the political parties.

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