The West Bengal government today said it would not return Rs 280 crore, received under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, as demanded by the Centre citing that the amount was used to dig private ponds in rural areas.
Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, Subrata Mukherjee said that the government wrote a letter to the central government explaining that the ponds were not private property since the water was used for farming, irrigation and household need.
"We recently received a letter from the central government stating it will deduct Rs 280 crore from the funds we received under the MGNREGA scheme. We oppose such demands and we will not return the amount," Mukherjee told reporters in Kolkata.
"In rural Bengal ponds are used for public utility. So there is no question of returning the money. This policy of digging up ponds in rural Bengal has provided employment to lakhs of people," he said.
Diversion of MGNREGA funds has been a contentious issue and several states have been utilising the funds for other rural development works. The Centre has taken with the issue with them and the advisory has been sent to states for not to divert the government rural job assurance scheme.
Recently, Union Minister for Rural Development, Narendra Singh Tomar informed the Rajya Sabha that efforts were being made to ensure that funds meant for MGNREGA are not diverted. He had said that a clarification has been sought from West Bengal government regarding repair of water tanks and other works under the scheme. Subsequently, the Centre demanded return of funds which was not used for MNREGA works. The West Bengal government argued that the works amount to asset creation and provided jobs to lakhs of people.