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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 April 2024

Bengal government looks at unspent funds for MGNREGS job card holders

Nabanna has asked district authorities to spend Rs 4,300 crore allotted under the 15th Finance Commission by June this year

Pranesh Sarkar Calcutta Published 21.05.23, 05:38 AM
A pond being dug under the 100 days’ job scheme in Birbhum when Bengal used to get central funds.

A pond being dug under the 100 days’ job scheme in Birbhum when Bengal used to get central funds. File picture

Nabanna has asked district authorities to spend Rs 4,300 crore allotted under the 15th Finance Commission by June this year in an apparent bid to give employment to the MGNREGS job card holders ahead of panchayat polls that are likely to be held in July-August.

"All the agencies working with the 15th Finance Commission must use the job card holder, except where very specific skill is required... works to be completed by 1st week of June, 2023 (before monsoon). No compromise with quality of work, 100% inspection required," reads a message from Nabanna sent to the district magistrates recently.

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The timing of the instruction, sources said, is significant as it comes close on the heels of the firework factory blast that has claimed 12 lives till now.

It has come to light that some of the victims, who were MGNREGS job card holders, were forced to take up jobs at the hazardous factory as no project was being taken up at the village under the 100 days' job scheme because of the ongoing funds freeze from Delhi.

“Now, it is evident that absence of work under the 100 days’ job scheme has left crores of job card holders in Bengal in real trouble. The state has geared up to arrange alternative jobs to the job card holders through its own schemes in the absence of central funds,” said a bureaucrat.

Funds under the 15th Finance Commission, a constitutional body that determines the formula of fund devolution to the states, have remained unspent with the rural bodies over the past few years. These funds — nearly 80 per cent of which are untied — had been directly sent to the rural bodies.

Over the past few months, the state government has been trying to arrange alternative job opportunities for the MGNREGS card holders through its own schemes. But the effort did not get momentum as Bengal could not take up major development schemes owing to the lack of funds.

“Till the end of April this year, the state could give jobs to only about 4 lakh MGNREGS job card holders out of 2.3 crore card holders. Right now, about 1.2 crore job cards are active and the state is trying to reach out to them with alternative jobs,” said a bureaucrat.

As the rural bodies can take up projects beneficial to rural people with the funds from the Finance Commission, it would not be difficult to generate jobs for a large number of job card holders with these funds.

Sources said that the state has used Rs 600 crore of the funds lying with the rural bodies in the ongoing financial year.

"Another Rs 1,000 crore will be used in May and the remaining Rs 2,700 crore could be used by the end of June if work orders can be issued by the first week of June. Though it appears tough to spend the entire Rs 2,700 crore in the month of June, more so since monsoon is likely to arrive in the state by early next month, the state has set a target to use most of the funds by June," said an official.

Sources said the state government has asked districts to lay stress on three types of schemes to use these funds.

First, the state is focusing on repairing small rural roads (up to 1km long).

Second, the state government has asked districts to install drinking water facilities with funds available under the 15th Finance Commission wherever required.

Third, solid waste management is also an area the state government is focusing on.

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