Friday, April 25, 2008

In Bengal village, CPM spruced up with NREG funds

In Bengal village, CPM office is spruced up with NREG funds

Bidyut Roy

Sat, Apr 26 02:47 AM (Indian Express)

Land development, irrigation projects, afforestation and roads, or any labour involving earthwork for creating assets is eligible for mobilisation of the rural jobless under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme under the NREG Act. But does renovating a CPM office in a remote village qualify as a "scheme" under the NREGA?

West Bengal's ruling Left Front - or at least the party that controls it - thinks so.

In Saikapatna in West Midnapore's Narayangarh block, on land owned by the panchayat, there stands a hut with bamboo-curtain walls and an asbestos roof. This is the office of the CPM's Madhabchak branch committee.

West Midnapore district is home to Panchayat Minister Surjya Kanta Mishra.

The hut was renovated by the CPM last month with help of mandays taken from the NREG scheme. Sudhanshu Sekhar Saha, secretary of the Konarpur gram panchayat - also the monitoring authority for NREGS - said that it required "250 mandays" (at Rs 70 a day) to do the job. The plot had to be leveled with earth brought in from elsewhere, bamboo-screen walls repaired and broken asbestos-sheet roof replaced.

When asked how renovation of a party office could be done with public funds, Saha said: "Yes, it is a mistake. We have told the party to move out and take their office somewhere else...They have promised to vacate after panchayat elections next month."

Eeasier said than done because the CPM built the office on land that falls in the compound of a Sishu Shiksha Kendra (SSK) or children's school that is part of the Centrally sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). "The party office was renovated with NREGA funds but what's wrong? Officially, the money was released to renovate the SSK," said Haripada Maity, local CPM member who works out of this office. Said Joint Secretary in the Panchayat department Shekhar Sengupta: "There is absolutely no way NREGA money can be used to build a party office."

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