Farmers starve as polls knock on the door

HINGALGUNJ, 23 MAY: Farmers in Aila-hit villages of Sunderbans will have to wait for the elections to get over to feed themselves and their families. Thousands of farmers, who had toiled over whatever they could get under NREGA to bring their lives back on track after Aila, are still waiting for the money. While the district administration passes the buck for the delay, homeless farmers keep starving. Hari Mondol, a farmer in Shamshernagar, showed this correspondent the stretch of embankment he had repaired a few months after Aila. “I am thinking of going to the city now to earn money. A lot of my friends are already gone. Pradhan saab said that we will get the NREGA money for our work soon but that is what he has been saying for the last 8 months. I can’t wait any more. I have to feed my children,” said Mondol. Farmers in Satjelia, Lahiripur, Kalitala, Achintanager, Kultali, Patharpratima, Durbachati, G-Plot and Dakhinroypur have tales to narrate. NREGA wages to the tune of Rs 32 lakh are still pending in G-Plot. Ms Swapna Triparthi, an activist with the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), said their members had gone for a 36-hour sit-in on 12th April demanding payment of NREGA wages near the office of Patharpratima BDO. The BDO promised that the farmers would be paid the pending wages by 30 April. Till now only Rs 5 lakh has been paid and the rest of Rs 27 lakh is still pending. The Patharpratima BDO, Mr Achinta Kumar Hazra, said: “We have paid some amount and the rest is still pending since bank delays processing the draft. Moreover, preparing the master roll of the people who have worked is a problem since there is only one person at the post office who knows how to use computers. He gets master rolls of different schemes from different regions. This is why it takes so much time.” Some farmers in Achintanagar said that they have been cheated out of their labour and money. “Panchayat made us work on projects and when we asked for the wages, we were told that we will not get the money since the scheme we worked on was not sanctioned,” said a farmer. Some of the workers are also facing problems since they have lost their NREGA job cards to the cyclone. Mr Hazra said that he has got such reports from some areas and he has informed the district magistrate. “People are busy in preparing for the elections and the payment may get delayed further. Just after Aila, a lot of people were asking for work under NREGA so that they could earn something and rebuild their lives. Villagers were getting impatient and so the pradhans told them to start working under NREGA. Some villagers were made to work on unsanctioned projects but that was done to avoid tension in the area,” said Mr Hazra. The PBKMS representative said they have informed the DM that if the farmers are not paid their wages by 6 June, they will go in for an indefinite sit-in from 7 June.

Soma Basu

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