West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said that her government will pay wages to 21 lakh workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MNREGS, that have been kept pending by the Centre, reported The Hindu.

According to the Trinamool Congress government, the Centre owes West Bengal at least Rs 6,900 crore under the central jobs scheme, which has ground to a halt in the state on account of pending funds.

The Union Rural Development Ministry in March 2022 decided to withhold MGNREGS funds for West Bengal alleging violation of the scheme’s rules of implementation by the West Bengal government.

“[We] will clear the dues of 21 lakh MGNREGA workers whose wages have been kept pending by the Central government for the past two years,” Banerjee said during a dharna called to protest the Centre’s denial of dues to West Bengal.

On Republic Day, Banerjee had warned that her party will launch protests against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre if it does not clear the state’s dues within seven days.

As many as 100 lawyers from across India, under the banner of the National Alliance for Justice, Accountability, and Rights, wrote to the Union Rural Development Ministry last month criticising the Centre’s “incorrect and heavily punitive decision” to withhold the MGNREGS funds for West Bengal.

“Available data shows that Bengal has been one of the best-performing states in terms of implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA, 2005), the letter stated. “In the year 2021-22, Bengal employed the highest number of unskilled workers and created the second-highest number of person-days, after Rajasthan, under the Act.”

Banerjee had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 20 to discuss the issue of the Centre’s outstanding payments to the state.

“There is a due of nearly ₹1.16 lakh crore from Government of India on account of various Centrally Sponsored Schemes and pending claims for natural disasters over the years. The outstanding dues include ‘core of the core’ social schemes like MGNREGS, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, National Health Mission etc.,” the Banerjee’s memorandum to the prime minister said.

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