Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) | We gave our blood and sweat, give us our dues: Funds-starved MGNREGA workers leave for TMC Delhi protest

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The 3,500 protesters will travel around 1,500km by road over the next two days after the railways refused to allot a special train at the last moment, the Trinamul leadership said

Snehamoy Chakraborty

Calcutta |
Published 01.10.23, 09:42 AM

Around 3,500 job card-holders under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) from Bengal set out for Delhi on Saturday in 50-odd buses to take part in a protest rally in the national capital on October 3. Trinamul is organising the rally to demand that the Narendra Modi government release wages due to workers under the 100-day rural job scheme and resume the flow of funds under other central schemes.

The Centre has stopped releasing funds to Bengal under several schemes, including the housing scheme for the poor, since December 2021.

The 3,500 protesters will travel around 1,500km by road over the next two days after the railways refused to allot a special train at the last moment, the Trinamul leadership said.

The job card-holders are to take part in a protest at Jantar Mantar along with over 600 elected representatives of Trinamul under the leadership of national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.

According to the Bengal government, the Centre owes it Rs 7,000 crore under the rural job scheme and that the wages of over 20 lakh job card-holders are pending.

The Telegraph spoke to four job card-holders from different corners of Bengal who boarded the reserved buses for Delhi from Netaji Indoor Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Name: Sahimuddin, 54, a resident of Gedrigaon village at Goalpokhar-I block in North Dinajpur.

Background: Sahimuddin, a marginal farmer who has a half-acre land, is a father of five. According to him, he sent his two elder sons to Bangalore to work as migrant labourers towards the end of 2022 after losing hope of the resumption of work in Bengal under the NREGA. “My three minor children study in primary schools and I need to earn for their education…. Leave alone Delhi, I have never come to Calcutta before,” Sahimuddin said before the bus left.

Demand: Sahimuddin has wage dues of Rs 15,000 under the MGNREGA. He had worked on the construction of three rural roads. “The combined earnings of me and my eldest son from the rural job scheme was the main source of income for the family. I need my wage dues and for work to resume,” he said.

Name: Shyamapada Das, 76, a resident of Khoabar village in Barabani of West
Burdwan.

Background: Das is a kirtan singer and gets Rs 1,000 a month as allowance under the state government’s scheme for poor cultural activists and folk singers. Apart from the allowance, he earns around Rs 20,000 a year by performing kirtans in the villages. His only son is also a kirtan singer. Both of them used to work as labourers under the 100-day job scheme.

Demand: Das said he had worked for three years on the construction of a road but did not get wages. “I don’t know what are my actual dues…. I am an old man and I want my dues settled. So, when Trinamul leaders told me to make this trip, I decided to join as I think this is the only way I can get my dues.”

Name: Nilmoni Soren, 50, a resident of Kalaibera village in Bankura’s Chhatna block.

Background: Nilmoni is a mother of three. Her husband is a farmer with a one-acre land. The tribal woman sent her eldest son, Malay, to work in Chennai as a migrant labourer last year after funds were frozen under the NREGA. She, along with her husband and eldest son, used to earn Rs 30,000 a year by working under the scheme since it was launched in 2005-06.

Demand: Nilmoni said the government owed her Rs 12,500 and she was willing to travel thousands of kilometres to claim it. “I did not have money or experience to step outside my village, so I immediately agreed to travel to Delhi when a local Trinamul leader requested me to. It’s my legitimate demand as I gave my blood and sweat…. If we are stopped midway, I will demonstrate then and there,” she said.

Name: Mandira Digar, 42, a resident of Belatikri in Jhargram and a member of the Trinamul-run Binpur-I panchayat samiti.

Background: Though she is an elected rural body member, she is a participant in the protest as a job card-holder. The mother of six from a Scheduled Caste was dependent on the wages under the MGNREGA to pay for the education of her children. Her husband is a sharecropper on 1.2 acres of land.

Demand: Digar said the Centre owed her Rs 9,500 for the digging of three ponds in her village. “This was the first time Trinamul gave me a ticket and I won. I want my dues and the Narendra Modi government should resume the flow of funds for it,” she said.


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