By Gladson Dungdung
18 September, 2009
The Congress-led UPA government propagated the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 known as NREGA, as one of its biggest achievements, during the last general election.
The government of India had brought NREGA with the objectives of enhancing livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household and also increases the sustainable agriculture economy. But it failed to meet the objectives in Jharkhand. If anyone willing to know about the ground realities of NREGA, must visit to Latehar district of Jharkhand. or even roam across Palamu, Hazaribagh and Deoghar districts, the fact is, one can find more or less the same stories across the state that how the poor are being betrayed by the government officials, the contractors and the middlemen in NREGA.
NREGA has got a different meaning in Jharkhand. After immolation of Tapas Soren, suicidal death of Turia Munda and assassination of Lalit Mehta related to NREGA, a slogan emerged “NREGA Jo Karega So Marega” (one who work for NREGA may lose life) known to everyone in the state. Secondly, when a strong nexus among government officials, contractors and middlemen was exposed in many cases, the people took for guaranteed that if anyone willing to work in NREGA must keep quiet and accept the destiny because raising question against nexus can put one in a danger. The corruption in NREGA has crossed the limit now therefore the Governor and the Bureaucrats are also openly speaking in the public domain on the matter but irony is no one takes step to bell the cat. Interestingly, the NREGA has become milch cow for the government officials, the contractors and the middlemen instead of ensuring employment to the rural masses.
NREGA was launched in 200 districts of India including 20 districts of Jharkhand on 2nd February, 2006. The programme was extended to entire Jharkhand by including another 4 districts in second and third phases respectively. According to the report of the Ministry of Rural Development the government of India, 8.73645 lakh people were given employment for 134.57 lakh days in Jharkhand till 15th of September, 2009. Among these 15.1 percent (47.49 lakh) Dalits, 42 percent (134.02 lakh) Adivasis and 32.7 percent (102.87) women got the employments. The government of India has sanctioned Rs.1397.57 crore to the Jharkhand government but unfortunately, it utilized merely 37.1 percent (Rs.518.87 crore) of the total fund. Under the programme 114009 schemes are taken up but only 22.8 percent (26062) schemes have been accomplished and 77.2 percent (87947) schemes are still in progress.
According to the government report, there were 3736526 rural families including 1655281 BPL families in Jharkhand in the financial year 2008-09. In this year, 2710647 families were projected for providing employments of 100 days therefore 3375992 job cards were issued but in practical merely 46.69 percent (1576348) families were given employments. The government of India had sanctioned Rs.180580.1 lakh to the state government and after adding the amount of previous year, the total sanctioned amount was Rs.236337.4 lakh. But unfortunately, merely 56.77 percent (Rs.134171.1 lakh) fund was utilized and Rs.102165.7 lakh remained unspent, which would have ensured 100 days employment to 10 lakh families.
The status of financial year 2009-10 shows that 2864120 families are projected for providing employments under NREGA therefore 3494390 job cards have been issued but as usual only 25 percent (873645 families) of them were given employment. The government of India has sanctioned Rs.45333.29 lakh and after adding the amount of last year the total sanctioned amount is Rs.148153.9 lakh. But the sad part is merely 35.02 percent (Rs.51887.28 lakh) fund is utilized till September 15 and Rs. 96266.57 lakh is still unspent. It is uncertain whether the rural poor would get benefit of the balance amount as the election of Legislative Assembly is at the door therefore the NREGA’s work can be hampered.
The pathetic story of NREGA doesn’t end here. There are also some serious problems in disbursal of wages. The wage has been fixed at the district level therefore the rate varies from district to district in Jharkhand. The labourers are paid highest wage of Rs.114.39 in Hazaribagh district and the lowest wage of Rs.78.39 in the Adivasi dominated Gumla district. Therefore, one may assume it as a case of discrimination with the Adivasis in NREGA. There are also some cases of gender based discrimination in wages. A woman is paid less than a man though both of them do the same work in NREGA.
Corruption is the most serious issue in NREGA, which is prevalent at every level. The share is fixed for the government officials in each scheme and misappropriation of fund is going on shamelessly across the state. The first share goes to the government official in percentage. Hence, the Panchayat Sevak gets 4 percent, 5 percent goes to the BDO and another 5 percent is fixed for the Junior Engineer. Secondly, the higher officials bag their share separately, which comes from the junior officials. Thirdly, the labourers are paid less than actual wage but the contractors maintain fixed wage in job cards & muster roll and also add more working days in it. Though the wage is paid to the labourers through the Bank accounts but contractors and middle men comfortably get their share. Fourthly, the schemes are also not accomplished properly but the full amount is released without proper verification. Finally, the labourers are also asked to pay for the job cards. Hence, there is a check post of loot in each turning point of NREGA.
Interestingly, the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary, all are aware about the rampant corruption in NREGA but none of these working to bring back the NREGA on the right track. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice K.G. Balkrishnan says, “NREGA is under the clutch of middle men.” Similarly, the Governor of Jharkhand, K.S. Narayanan has also raised very serious questions and took classes of the Deputy Commissioners many times. According to the Advisor of the Governor of Jharkhand, G. Krishnan, the Junior Engineers (JE) and the Block Development Officers (BDO) are the most corrupt officers and they do not even believe in the Gram Sabhas. But the pertaining questions are why the state government is not taking stringent action against those officers? Will crying foul solve the problem? And does it mean the only the lower level officers are responsible for it?
Though the Gram Sabhas and Panchayats have been assigned roles and responsibilities under the NREGA but in practice there is a huge gap in Jharkhand. The government officials do not even recognize the traditional Gram Sabhas precisely because the Gram Sabha can expose the misconducts. Secondly, the block offices have become the centre stage of corruption.
In these circumstances, if NREGA has to achieve its objectives, the government must take strong steps to kill the bird. Firstly, percentage share of the government officials in schemes must be stopped immediately. Secondly, the block offices should be closed down and a direct link should be established between district headquarters and the Gram Sabhas. The Gram Sabhas must be given the right of issuing job cards, preparation of muster rolls, planning, implementation and monitoring of the schemes. Thirdly, a strong legislation needs to be brought with the provisions of severe punishment as dismissal from the service, imprisonment and recovery of grabbed money with ten times penalty. There should be also a special court, which can sort out the matters in time bound manners. But the unanswered question is will our Politicians and Bureaucrats ever be ready for it as they are the people who brought loot culture to the state of Jharkhand?
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org