Bengal ache over rural job scheme tweak
Panchayat authorities in Bengal are worried about meeting man-day targets under the centrally funded 100-day job scheme after the Union government recently struck off the list some activities that generated maximum employment in the state.
In a circular issued in July, the Centre informed states that certain activities like digging earth, developing gravel roads and renovating ponds would no longer be considered part of the MGNREGA scheme.
State panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said he had requested the “Centre” to reconsider the decision.
In the new list, the Centre has earmarked 206 types of projects that can be taken up under the 100-day scheme. Nabanna has sent the new list to the panchayat authorities.
A source in East Burdwan said digging earth or renovating ponds used to generate around 50 per cent man-days in the district. “Now we will have to look for other areas in which we can engage people under the scheme,” said a source.
According to the source, identifying alternative projects is not easy given that the Centre has asked the authorities to keep in mind the quality of assets created through the scheme before hiring people for the projects.
The Centre’s decision is the fallout of an ongoing debate on the 100-day scheme as a section of policy-makers has contended that the money should be spent on creating assets, instead of just handing out doles. This school believes that the lack of focus on quality of assets is resulting in corruption and, therefore, proper checks and balances need to be incorporated into the system.
“The problem is genuine as there have been instances of local-level politicians rigging the system and producing fake certificates to claim money,” said another source.
Recently, the Birbhum district authorities received complaints that Rs 1.4 crore was withdrawn and shown as “spent” by some Trinamul-led gram panchayats under the scheme on 26 projects — most of them focused on renovating existing ponds or digging new ones — that never took shape.
District magistrate Moumita Godara Basu and zilla parishad chief Bikash Roy Chowdhury visited the spots and found most complaints true.
But the problem is finding people with the relevant skills to build proper assets in rural areas. In East Burdwan’s Trinamul-run Bhuri gram panchayat, the authorities aim to create 1.09 lakh man-days of work in the current financial year. Sources now said they would find it tough to meet 10 per cent of the target.
“We have been able to generate only 10,000 man-days so far this fiscal by engaging labourers in unskilled jobs in the government housing scheme,” said Subodh Ghosh, deputy chief of the rural body.
The administration is now giving emphasis on tree plantations in the district under the MGNREGA. “Giving training to unskilled people in planting of tree saplings and growing them is easier than educating them in construction jobs,” said an official.
The state government has appealed to the Union government to reconsider the decision. “We cannot do anything other than urge the Centre to revoke the decision as the project is solely funded by them. The new work list will hamper man-day creations. We, along with some other states, have raised the issue with the Union government,” Mukherjee, the panchayat minister, said.