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Bengal government presses pause button on job scheme

Centre’s refusal to approve labour budget for the 2022-23 fiscal triggers move
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Pranesh Sarkar   |   Calcutta   |   Published 22.06.22, 12:26 AM

The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to press an indefinite pause button on the 100-day job scheme in Bengal as the Centre has not yet approved the labour budget for the 2022-23 fiscal.

Multiple sources in the state administration said Nabanna’s instruction to that effect had already reached districts and district magistrates had begun sending messages to block development officers asking them not to initiate any work under the rural employment guarantee scheme.

“You are also requested to proceed very slowly as the labour budget for this FY (financial year) is yet to be approved. You are again requested not to approve any material-based scheme from your login until further communication,” reads a message sent to the BDOs by a DM in south Bengal.

The Trinamul Congress government has sent the unprecedented directive after the Centre decided to withhold funds under MGNREGA. While the Centre pays the entire wage bill for people employed under the provisions of the MGNREGA, the state bears 25 per cent of the material cost of the projects undertaken under the job scheme.

“The state is yet to get Rs 6,500 crore, including wages worth Rs 3,000 crore against the 3 crore additional mandays created last year. So, labourers could not be paid since December. The government does not want to face a similar situation this year and that is why it has been decided that no work will be undertaken under the 100-day job scheme,” said a senior official.

Panchayat department officials said a national level monitoring team had raised questions over the way funds had been spent in some areas and as the state government’s answers were not satisfactory, the Centre had held up the release of Rs 6,500 crore.

“The state’s failure to provide satisfactory answers prompted the Centre to delay the approval of the labour budget for the current fiscal. So, the state government pressed a pause button on the execution of the job scheme in the current fiscal,” said a panchayat department official.

If the pause on the scheme continues indefinitely, it will create a huge impact on the state’s rural economy as there are over 2 crore job card holders in Bengal.

“Earlier, the state used to start work even if there were delays in the approval of the labour budget by the Centre. This is because Delhi had never stopped the fund flow

under the scheme. The state cannot afford to take the

risk of launching work as there is realisation that New Delhi is unlikely to release the funds in near future,” said a source.

“Opportunities to earn livelihoods at villages are limited. There hasn’t been any job creation since April 1... If the situation continues like this, the poor will suffer,” said an official.

The ruling Trinamul has already made the Centre’s decision to stop the fund flow a political issue and organised several protest movements across the state. Sources in Trinamul said the movement would be intensified over the next few months.

The Trinamul strategy of passing the blame on New Delhi, however, may not be fully successful, said a party insider.

“Rural people know that panchayats run the job scheme and as most of the rural bodies are run by us. People will definitely hold us responsible and that is not good news before the panchayat polls,” said a source.

“But it is also true that we cannot run the scheme without the Centre’s funds,” said the minister.

A government officer said a pause on job creation in rural areas would have a positive effect on the labour supply in the state.

“We often receive complaints that farmers are not getting enough labourers as the 100-day job scheme runs alongside. The kharif season has started and the farmers will not face any shortage of labourers if the scheme is put on hold for another one month or so,” said a DM.

“Besides, labour supply in urban and semi-urban areas will also increase because of lack of opportunities in rural areas,” added the bureaucrat.

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