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

India Today - - INSIDE - By Piyush Ba­bele and Ashish Misra With Viren­dra Mishra in Bas­tar

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.

Pho­to­graphs: MA­NEESH AGNIHOTRY/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com



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.

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