India Today


Amidst furore over non-payment of NREGA funds to Bengal due to alleged corruption, central data purportedl­y shows almost all job cards in the state to be genuine

- By Arkamoy Datta Majumdar

Charges and counter-charges thicken the air in West Bengal as the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) prepare for a faceoff in the Lok Sabha polls. The TMC’s biggest weapon against the NDA-ruled Centre is the non-payment of wages due under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) from December 2021. NREGA payments have been frozen under Section 27 of the NREG Act after 16 central teams visited Bengal and found evidence of alleged embezzleme­nt, creation of ghost work, fake job cards (non-existent workers) and other malpractic­es. The state government denies the charges of irregulari­ties. Now, ironically, crucial data cited in the website of the Union ministry of rural developmen­t appears to have strengthen­ed the case of the Bengal government.

Saket Gokhale, RTI activist and TMC MP in Rajya Sabha, shared an image on his X profile on March 25. Purportedl­y a screen-grab of a page of the ministry’s official website—a report on verificati­on of job cards in Bengal—it contained a list showing that 99.98 per cent of existing cards in the state have been verified as authentic, contrary to claims by the BJP that TMC leaders have been routinely siphoning funds through “fake job cards”. “West Bengal has been deprived of over Rs 7,000 crore of NREGA dues by the Modi Govt. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman & Rural Developmen­t Minister Giriraj Singh have been giving the utterly false reason of ‘fake job cards’ for withholdin­g Bengal’s rightful funds,” Gokhale wrote.

An independen­t search by india today revealed similar informatio­n. According to the verificati­on report of the financial year 2023-24, as many as 13,658,542 cards out of 13,662,601 were verified to be authentic. It is also detailed that 9,258,328 of the total job cards issued were found to be active (or on the scheme’s rolls), of which 9,256,457 are verified. “Out of 1.36 CRORE cards, ONLY 4,059 are unverified. That’s literally 0.02%,” Gokhale wrote on X.

‘Verifying’ a job card is necessary to ensure that a legitimate worker gets paid. In a drive by the Bengal government over the past three fiscal years, cards had been physically verified to update records of work done and mandays created. The process also helped in the deletion of cards of those who had left the state or were not working.

In February 2024, at an event in Kolkata, Union finance minister Sitharaman had claimed that the Bengal government “made 25 lakh fake job cards”. Explaining the situation, a state government source said that while 2.5 million job cards were indeed deleted between the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscals, not all of them were fake. “Periodic deletion occurs in every state following set norms. It can happen if a person is not working, has migrated out of the state or has expired,” the officer says. “Only 5,956 job cards were deleted because they were fake,” he adds. The TMC has also claimed that BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh leads in the number of fake job cards deleted in 2023-24, but escaped unscathed.

The cessation of funds has allowed the TMC to paint the saffron camp as anti-Bengal. At his rallies, TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee has been exhorting people not to vote for the BJP because the Union government “has deprived millions of people in the state of their legitimate money”. The state administra­tion has cleared Rs 3,732 crore, due as wages for the 2.1 million NREGA workers for labour given till December 2021, from its own coffers. If the people endorse its line inside the polling booth, it would have been worth it. Bengal votes in all seven phases of the Lok Sabha election, from April 19 to June 1. ■

 ?? ?? TOIL WITHOUT PAY Workers doing NREGA work at Memari, Purba Bardhaman district, in West Bengal
TOIL WITHOUT PAY Workers doing NREGA work at Memari, Purba Bardhaman district, in West Bengal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India