The Calcutta High Court on Thursday ordered formation of a four-member team for verification of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) job cards on a district-wise basis in West Bengal.
The order came during the hearing of a PIL seeking release of wages to genuine workers under the scheme in the state.
While the West Bengal government claims that the Union government was not releasing funds to the state under MGNREGA, the Centre holds that money given earlier was misappropriated by the use of fake job cards.
The court ordered that a genuine verification process of job cards for MNREGA be done district-wise by a team of four officers – one to be nominated by the central government, one by the West Bengal government, one from the office of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and one from the office of the Accountant General, West Bengal.
A division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam directed that the team will do a verification of job cards on a district-wise basis and in each district this will be done in sub-divisional levels so that the teams can visit these places and resolve the matter at the earliest.
The court directed that on the next hearing date, the central and state governments and the office of the CAG and Accountant General will give to it the names of the officers.
The bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, directed that this four-member team will be constituted after the names are furnished to the court on the next date of hearing on January 25.
It directed that the committee will undertake the process expeditiously.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Asok Kumar Chakrabarti, representing the central government, submitted that the MNREGA scheme was introduced by an Act of Parliament in 2005 and state governments were delegated to execute the work.
He stated that supervisors at the panchayat level employed the persons under the scheme.
The ASG claimed that funds released under MGNREGA to the state earlier were misappropriated.
Advocate General Kishore Dutta, representing the state government, claimed that owing to non-provisioning of funds by the Centre, the MGNREGA scheme could not be implemented in Bengal during the 2022-23 financial year and till date in 2023-24.
He claimed that the Ministry of Rural Development has not taken steps to resolve the issue.
The AG submitted that two central teams visited Malda and the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration area in Darjeeling hills in 2021, while 15 central teams visited 15 districts of the state regarding implementation of MGNREGA the next year.
Appearing for the petitioners in the PIL, senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya submitted that while the Centre and the state were fighting over the release of funds and genuinity of job cards, it was the real workers who were suffering owing to non-payment of wages for work done.
The withholding of MGNREGA dues by the Centre has become a major political issue in the state, leading to protests by senior TMC leaders at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, followed by a five-day sit-in outside the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata.