Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to release funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for West Bengal, ANI reported.

The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has said that the Centre owes West Bengal at least Rs 6,900 crore under the central jobs scheme. The scheme was launched by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2006 guaranteeing 100 days of unskilled work annually for every rural household.

Funds for the scheme are contributed by the state and the Centre.

However, the payments for workers under the scheme began drying up in December 2021, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government stopped allocating funds for MGNREGS to the state.

In his letter to Modi, the Congress MP said that during his visit to West Bengal as part of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, he met a delegation of MGNREGS workers from Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity who apprised him of the problems faced by them.

“Lakhs of our brothers and sisters have been denied work and wages under [MGNREGS] due to the stoppage of central funds to West Bengal Since March, 2022,” the letter said. “I was informed that many workers have not been paid for work completed in 2021 due to shortfall in funds.”

Gandhi said that the withholding of funds has caused a drastic decline in the number of households availing work under the scheme from 75 lakh in 2021-’22 to under 8,000 households in 2023-’24.

“This massive scale down has been brutal on the most vulnerable – women, and SC & ST [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe] households,” he said. “The lack of MGNREGS work and pending wages have forced many to make hard choices – particularly distress migration.”

On February 3, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that her government will pay the pending wages to 21 lakh workers.

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

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