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Nagarik Mancha: Letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal

‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ Scheme of the West Bengal Government to provide some relief to such labourers/daily wage earners/workers

To
The Hon’ble Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Kolkata

Sub: ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ Scheme of the West Bengal Government to provide some relief to such labourers/daily wage earners/workers who are in extreme distress caused by loss of livelihood in the unorganised sector of West Bengal owing to the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19)

Respected Madam,

Nagarik Mancha is an autonomous, independent citizen’s initiative and social action group dealing with industry, labour and environment since 1989.

We are extremely concerned with the plight of unorganised workers and turn to you in this hour of crisis.

We are bringing to your kind attention a small report as ‘Facts’ followed by our ‘Submission’ for your kind perusal and appropriate action.

Facts

1. It was extremely heartening to note that the Chief Minister of West Bengal made a very important announcement right after ‘Lockdown-1.0’ started. This was the ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ Scheme of the West Bengal Government, which is meant to provide some relief to such labourers/daily wage earners/workers who are in extreme distress caused by loss of livelihood in the unorganised sector of West Bengal owing to the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19). She said that Rs 1000 will be given to workers in the unorganised sector. Intention perhaps was to be prompt at the time of distress.

2. Initially it was decide that camps would be set up at various locations between 15 April and 30 April. At these camps, application forms would be accepted from the workers who would be the eligible beneficiaries. The plans were fair enough.

3. As Lockdown1.0 transformed into 2.0, complications started surfacing about the modus operandi. It started coming to our notice that form distribution had started in some districts, who knows by whom.

However senior leaders like Firhad Hakim went on record to say that the Government has not yet decided about the procedure. All this uncertainties and indecisiveness while the jobless workers have their backs against the wall?

4. On 10 April 2020, the Finance Department of Govt. of West Bengal issued a notification. It contained information regarding what needs to be done in order to get benefits stated in the ‘Prachesta’ Scheme. The filled up forms could be submitted at the Offices of the District Magistrate or Block Development Officer.

5. There were cases of disturbances related to submission of forms at Jhargram, Jalpaiguri, Kochbehar and Medinipur owing to different allied issues.

6. Under such circumstances, as per Notice dated 27 April 2020, Department of Finance announced the stoppage of the process of submitting forms. However no alternative method for submission was proposed. It is not very clear as to why the submission of forms were not permitted to be done online for ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ scheme like it was done for the ‘Sneher Paras’ scheme, launched exactly around this time? Sneher Paras was a Migrant Worker Relief Scheme App for financially supporting people of West Bengal who have been stranded in some other state during ‘Lockdown’.

7. Between 10 April and 27 April 2020, eight lakh forms of ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ had been submitted in accordance with Government notifications. All these have been deemed to be null and void. From 4 May 2020 everyone will need to submit applications online. Delays after delays instead of speedy delivery.

8. The online applications will be scrutinised in 6-7 departments where the various schemes have originated requiring, understandably, a huge amount of time to weed out overlapping? By then, by conservative estimates, the workers would be without jobs for 2-2.5 months? Everyone will perhaps appreciate that Rs 1000/- NOW as compared to that amount a month from now will make a huge difference?

9. Lakhs will apply while the final beneficiaries will be paltry in comparison. Question will arise that despite the well-intended announcement, is the Government keen to really shell out any significant amount by way assistance at the time of Corona?   

10. Who then will actually be eligible to get what little benefits announced by the Hon’ble CM as per ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ Scheme of the West Bengal Government? It’s a ‘lakh takar’ question. 

11. It was specified ‘that the labourer/daily wage earner/worker should not be the beneficiary of any social scheme of the State like social pension schemes (old age, widow and disability pension), Samajik Suraksha Yojana (SSY) etc.’ in which case they would be EXCLUDED from ‘Prachesta’ Scheme.

12. West Bengal Government also has a number of social security schemes in operation like Financial Assistance to the Workers of Locked-Out Industries (FAWLOI); and Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY); Schemes for transport, bidi and construction workers; Indra Gandhi National Old Age Pension; WB Joy Bangla Pension Scheme 2020; Farmers Old Age Pension Scheme; MNREGA; Old Age Pension For Fishermen; Artisan Pension; Lokprasar Prakalpo etc.

13.  There are 1.3 crore workers in the unorganised sector already registered in ‘social schemes of the State’. These 1.3 crore workers will be excluded as per Governments decision from the ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’ which is meant to provide some relief to such labourer/daily wage earner/workers who are in extreme distress caused by loss of livelihood in the unorganised sector of West Bengal owing to the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19).

14. So, does it mean, that these above mentioned workers in the unorganised sector who are ‘registered’ under the various schemes on ‘paper’, do not ‘deserve’ the quick-response financial assistance despite facing the plight of joblessness and hunger in the time of Corona? On what basis are they ignored?

15. Have these workers in the unorganised sector already received any onetime financial assistance of late, to mitigate their penury, hunger and joblessness since our country has gone into Lockdown through any other ‘Schemes’ mentioned above in which they have their names registered?

16. Just by way acknowledging it, passing mention may also be made here, of the State Assisted Scheme of Provident Fund for Unorganised Workers (SASPFUW). West Bengal, it is noted, has the largest number of beneficiary members in the country in such comparable schemes. So no dearth of political will is in evidence as far as framing pro-unorganised-worker schemes are concerned?

17. Hence in a State not lacking political will to stay by the side of workers in the unorganised sector, which then are the categories of workers who are to benefit from the promptly conceptualised ‘Prachesta Prakalpa’?

18. In conclusion, all workers outside the purview of government schemes and additionally not involved in any employer-employee relationship, and are self-employed are eligible for the Rs. 1000/- one-time relief to are in extreme distress caused by loss of livelihood in the unorganised sector of West Bengal owing to the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19).

19. Having said that, one must confess that it is not clear to us as to who then are going to be the real beneficiaries? Are the intentions then basically paper-bound?   

20. The total workers in West Bengal is 2.95Cr. Of these, 25 lakhs are employed in government; quasi-government; organised sector; municipalities; panchayat and the like leaving 2.70Cr of workers in the unorganised sector.

21. There are 32 lakhs of construction workers in West Bengal. There is a fund set aside exclusively for construction workers a portion of which is with the State Government. Has the West Bengal Government taken any decision about utilising this fund in such a critical time?

22. There is no suitable explanation to the question as to why 1.3 crore workers in the unorganised sector already registered under various social security schemes should be left out despite the fact that they have not received any emergency financial assistance whatsoever? Are they expected to survive just by being ‘officially registered’ under these schemes?

23. After Lockdown was put in place, many State Governments have transferred a sum of money directly to the bank accounts of the registered workers in the unorganised sector even if the amount was insufficient? Even the Panchayat network have been used to seek and transfer some money to the workers in the unorganised sector who had returned to their villages?

24. If financially supporting the per diem workers swiftly, could have been done elsewhere, doesn’t it indicate that it could have been done in West Bengal too?

25. The Labour Department had been actively organising labour melas and camps till as late as February 2020. And it is indeed laudable. This, in order to ‘widen the safety net’ for the workers in the unorganised sector, who are not already registered in social security schemes. These workers will regret the decision for having got themselves registered. If they hadn’t they might then have received financial assistance even if  it is only Rs. 1000/- when they needed it the most, they might feel. This is the paradox. If the authority could not improve the plight of these workers, they should not have at least deprived them of the little assistance that could have come their way?

Submission

1. Social safety network for the unprotected is most important in times like THESE;
2. Every worker in the unorganised sector should receive assistance, even if token;
3. All adjustment of funds can be done after payments are made;
4. There should not be any picking or choosing as related to schemes;
5. Schemes might be important, but assistance in dire need, is the duty of the State;
6. It is dehumanising to keep the jobless and hungry workers waiting;
7. It is not mere difficulties, but an insult to the workers’ state of being;
8. It is when the assistance is given that is much more important, than how much;
9. These workers deserve support more than any other section of the society;
10. The State has made them jobless and hungry but they should not be made to beg;
11. State should not be indifferent to one of the engines of our economy;
12. This is the ultimate test of political will about what ought to be done.    
We sincerely hope that you will, as always, personally look into this matter and take steps which you deem to be fit and proper.

Thanking you
Yours faithfully

Naba Dutta
General Secretary
Mob: 9831172060

04 May 2020

Nagarik Mancha <nagarikmancha@gmail.com>

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May 4, 2020


Nagarik Mancha nagarikmancha@gmail.com