By Gladson Dungdung
Tehelka 7 November, 2008
Bureaucrats, politicians and contractors in Jharkhand benefit from NREGS, not the poor
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) introduced to ensure 100 days work for the poor, has occupied the centre stage of rampant corruption in Jharkhand. The self immolation of Tapas Soren, brutal killing of Lalit Mehta and martyrdom of Turiya Munda against corruption in NREGA have had no impact in the mindset of the government officials, contractors and middlemen for whom the NREGA has become a milch cow. Now, bribes go to the tiers in the government in fixed percentages. One pays 4 percent to Panchayat Sevak, 5 percent to Block Development Officer, 5 percent to Engineer and list goes on. Half of the money goes in bribes. This is known to all the senior officers but hardly any one is punished for their illegal acts.
The modus operandi of siphoning off NREGA funds is changing with the direct involvement of Bank officials. This was disclosed by the members of a social audit team consisting of a noted economist and member of Central Employment Guarantee Council Professor Jean Dreze, adviser to the Supreme Court on right to food, Balram, Researchers of Allahabad JB Pant Institute and Delhi School of Economics while conducting public hearing and social audit on NREGA of Raidih Gram Panchayat in Karo block of Deoghar district on 15-16 October, 2008.
The social audit team found approximately 20 fake bank accounts and false muster rolls in Raidih Gram Panchayat alone. The NREGA card holders said that they had never been to the Bank but that the contractor Nawal Kishor Singh got their thumb impressions on papers and bank slips. Thereafter, according to them, he opened accounts in the Bank and withdrew the money too. Obviously, a fake account can not be opened without the involvement of the top management of any Bank as per its rules and regulations. All the fake bank accounts were found to be from the Central Cooperative Bank, Jamtara.
In many cases, more wages had been added in muster rolls than actually paid to the labourers. The contractor Nawal Kishor Singh has accepted all the allegations against him. After the social audit team demanded action against the culprits, the District Commissioner of Deoghar, Mastram Meena took immediate action against the culprits. A case was filed against the contractor Nawal Kishor Singh, Panchayat Sevak Umesh Singh, the manager of the Central Cooperative Bank and president of PACS Society, Gopal Chaudhery. The Block Development Officer, Rajesh Kumar Singh has also accepted the charge of misappropriation of funds and paid Rs 1000 as penalty under section 25 of the NREGA for failing to adhere to the Act.
The social audit of NREGA has created unrest for the contractors. In retaliation, a case has been registered against Dreze and his team in Madhupur SDO Court on October 15 by five Adivasis alleging that the social Audit team threatened them and got their thumb impressions on blank papers. Reacting on the matter, Dreze said, “It is a conspiracy against my team. The administration had done the same thing in Palamu also but we are not going to stop our campaign.” “My responsibility is to implement NREGA for the poor as it represents a new hope for the rural poor”, he added.
The NREGA is also facing problems other than corruption. According to the rules, payment must be made only through the bank account so that the money goes to the labourers directly there are many who still do not hold a bank account. In Jharkhand, 29.19 percent NREGA card holders still don’t have accounts. The government has issued 3050232 job cards to the labourers but 890498 do not have accounts, a good excuse for the administration for not giving them work.
There are no banks in many remote blocks like Lawalong, Gidhaur and Kunda of Chatra district, where a number of starvation deaths were reported recently. 77 percent of the beneficiaries of the scheme do not have bank accounts here. Similarly, in Palamu district, it is 76.8 percent in Godda, 62.26 percent in Garwah, 50 percent in Ranchi, 51.73 percent in Saraikela.
A survey of the NREGA labourers conducted by the social audit team in six states of North India including Jharkhand shows that 68 % of the labourers consider the programme as very useful for them despite the rampant corruption. Dreze said, “Instead of shrill rhetoric for or against the programme, what is required is serious discussion on how to make it work.” “I think it can be done, but this involves confronting the nexus of corrupt contractors, bureaucrats and politicians who are prospering through the NREGA,” he added.
A noted Human Rights Activist, Stan Swami suggests a way to get rid of the corruption in NREGA. According to him the Block Development Office (BDO) should be completely kept out of the picture. He says, “Remove the BDO office which is blocking development and link the village Gram Sabha directly to District administration.” “Historically the BDO (the office and officer) have come to be known for incompetence, inefficiency and corruption. They work like the feudal zamindar lording over people. They have been blocking rather than aiding rural development,” he adds.
The main reasons for unending corruption are abject poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, transparency and accountability. 65 percent people fall below poverty line in the state. The report says that 348 villages have zero percent literacy. 1291 villages have only 10 percent literate people 1433 villages don’t have a single literate woman. Consequently, the villagers cannot even read their job cards, registers and muster rolls. They depend either on panchayat sevak, contractor and middleman for all the paper work. It comes as no surprise that they, then, end up being cheated.
Corruption can only be uprooted through transparency, accountability and participatory democracy at grassroots. This is still a distant dream.
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org