West Bengal filed a complaint (Diary No – 31323/CR/2023) demanding their rights at the National Human Rights Commission’s office in New Delhi. The workers submitted a memorandum with the basic demand of wages, due for more than a year.
The Bengal workers are part of the protest organised by a group of 20-25 rights bodies from all over India as part of 100-day protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, starting 13 February.
The last fund transfer order to West Bengal was released on 26 December, 2021 and no payment order was released hence, said the protesters.
The centre has withheld the release of over Rs 7,500 crore MGNREGA funds to the state, out of which, wages amounting to Rs 2,762 crore have not been paid to 3.4 crore registered workers from Bengal. In addition, there is a shutdown of NREGA work in the state for FY 22-23.
In response to a petition filed by Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity (PBKMS) on behalf of the workers, the Calcutta High Court passed an order on 9 January directing the (i) workers to file a detailed comprehensive representation before the concerned DMs and DMs to conduct an enquiry and take appropriate action within 3 months from the date of receipt of such representation.
Apart from immediate payment of the pending wages and compensation for delay and release of the withheld funds by the central government, the protesting workers are demanding establishment of a revolving fund of Rs 1,000 crore by the state government and grievance redressal mechanisms under the MGNREGA Act to be strengthened.
Anuradha Talwar of PBKMS, said, the workers are in dire straits. Many are skipping their meal, stopping the education of their children. Last year there was no cyclone which saved many of these people.
In Sundarbans, the embankment work is mostly done through the MGNREGA money. The major affected districts are Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram.
All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Sangathan (AIKKMS) is also holding protests in the state on the issue apart from issues like minimum guarantee on MSP and withdrawal of 2022 power Bill.
AIKKMS state committee secretary Swapan Debnath, said, “MGNREGA is part of our protest movement. We will keep fighting for our rights. The prices of fertilizers are hiked by the central government. But the black market takes place in the state, resulting in almost doubling of prices.”