Con Job at Ground Zero
In Gandhi stronghold Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and in the heart of tribal Chhattisgarh, NREGA is a non- starter
In Gandhi stronghold Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and in the heart of tribal Chhattisgarh, NREGA is a non- starter.
The Government’s own data shows that its flagship scheme of providing work for at least 100 days in a year for each rural household under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( NREGA) has failed miserably. A mere 3.08 per cent of NREGA job card- holders got 100 days’ work in the financial year 2011- 2012; in 20102011, it was an equally abysmal 3.27 per cent, according to figures on the NREGA website. Worse, there is strong evidence that many card- holders are ineligible and had obtained them fraudulently.
What ails the NREGA scheme? INDIA TODAY visited Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, the constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, one of the most backward areas in the country, for a reality check.
Rae Bareli is among the districts in the country where the NREGA rollout has been most effective— relatively speaking. Up to 2,08,739 families have job cards and 8,751 families got 100 days’ work. That works out to 4.19 per cent people of job card- holders getting the full quota of work. Among the beneficiaries is Jitendra Kumar Shukla, 43, job card- holder number UP- 33- 013- 017- 004/ 274. The self- proclaimed Congressman from Gigaso, Lalganj block, Rae Bareli, owns four brick kilns, a petrol pump, a cold storage plant and is an Eicher tractors agent. The ‘ rural labourer’ has a fleet of vehicles that include a Tata Safari, Tata Bolero and Maruti Swift, and keeps a pistol. Shukla’s driver is the Gigaso gram pradhan. “Any individual residing in this village is eligible for the job card. There is no restriction. I did the job of monitoring various works under NREGA and distributed the amount I received as wage among the poor,” is Shukla’s defence.
Just 30 km south of Gigaso is Dina ka Purva village in Dalmau block. Mahavir, 80, and Mangal, 80, have done endless rounds of the offices of the gram pradhan and the block development officer to get a job card in vain. Mangal’s mud hut is so dilapidated that it could cave in anytime. He has two sons who go to nearby villages in search of work. “We submit
Jitendra Kumar Shukla, 43 mbai Gigaso village, Rae Bareli He owns four brick kilns, a petrol pump, a cold storage plant and and is an Eicher tractors agent. He also holds an NREGA job card. applications every year and yet don’t have job cards. How can we expect to find work under NREGA?” says Mangal. Mahavir owns a two- bigha plot of land and barely manages to make ends meet for his family of seven.
At Balipur village in the same Dalmau block of Rae Bareli, Shiva Varan, then gram pradhan, gifted job cards in 2006 to his underage nephews Aman, 15, and Amit, 16. “When the NREGA scheme was launched here five years ago, most of the pradhans got job cards made for their kith and kin. There was no sign of work but the entire NREGA fund was used up. Balipur is a perfect example of the collusion between gram sabha pradhans and panchayat secretaries to swindle NREGA money,” claims RTI activist Virbhan Singh. “The pradhan gets job cards done in the name of villagers and siphons off Rs 120 daily against each card, giving 40 per cent of the amount to the card- holder. The villagers are happy that they receive money without doing any work,” alleges octogenarian freedom fighter Bachhulal Shukla. P. P. Tripathi, the project director of the District Rural Development Agency of Rai Bareli, says it is not possible to monitor everything: “Work under NREGA is carried out at three levels— gram panchayat, area panchayat and at the level of departments of the state administration. If members of a family ask for work separately from different departments, then it’s difficult to know whether the whole household has worked for more than 100 days or not.”
In Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, there are 2,28,564 registered families out of which only 5,301— 2 per cent households— got 100 days’ work in 2011- 12. In Darbha block, only 88 out of 15,705 households with job cards got 100 days’ work over the year. In other words, only 0.50 per cent households could avail the full benefit of NREGA. Libru, 55, a Madiya tribal from Mamdapal village, has an acre of land to till and maintain his family of 10. He hasn’t got work under NREGA for more than 30 days a year since April 2006. Sahato, 25, hasn’t been paid his wages for three years: “In 2009, I worked with 50 others for 20 days to build village roads. It’s three years and counting and I still haven’t got my dues.” U. K. Pambhoei, the chief executive officer of Darbha block, says, “Villagers have to walk 25 to 30 km to the bank or post office to receive their payments. That’s why they avoid working under NREGA.”
Such simplistic explanations do not wash with former Union finance minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. “NREGA was bound to fail as the Government had done no homework to execute it at the grassroots level. Political haste and corruption sealed the fate of this scheme,” he says.
Union Minister of State for Rural Development Pradeep Jain Aditya insists all is well: “It is not right to slam the whole scheme on the basis of a few irregularities.” Aditya then quickly shifts the blame to state governments, “State governments, which have to implement the scheme at the ground level, pay no heed to repeated instructions and complaints.”
“Corruption in NREGA is a great injustice to the country and a crime because the scheme is dedicated to the Father of the Nation,” Congress President Sonia Gandhi had stressed in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a conference in Delhi on February 2. Ironically, when the time came for Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to present the Union Budget in March, the allocation for Sonia’s pet scheme slid Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 33,000 crore. UPA 2 doesn’t believe in putting the money where its mouth is.
VILLAGERS AT MAHARAJGANJ BLOCK OF RAE BARELI WITH JOB CARDS BUTNO NO WORK
AND MAHAVIR Mahavir, 80; Mangal, 80Mumbai Dina ka Purva village, Rae Bareli Both have done endless rounds of the offices of the gram pradhan and the block development officer to get a job card, in vain.