The Telegraph
Thursday , May 29 , 2014
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Lotus has bloomed, now it’s the turn of rural job scheme
- Jharkhand among bottom three in spending for flagship MGNREGS, finds out new Gopinath Munde ministry

New Delhi, May 28: Jharkhand’s blooming lotus has a not-so-hidden thorny challenge.

The state, which has rewarded the BJP and the Narendra Modi government with 12 MPs, has also thrown the new Gopinath Munde-headed rural development minister a MGNREGS zinger.

Along with Odisha and Bihar, Jharkhand is at the bottom of the bucket list of states as far as the actual expenditure of funds under the national job guarantee scheme goes.

In each of these three states, more than 50 per cent of households live in dire poverty, which is much higher than the national average according to the Suresh Tendulkar Committee report (see box).

According to the data of Union ministry of rural development, these three states account for just 11 per cent of the total expenditure of about Rs 30,000 crore under MGNREGS in 2013-14.

And, this was an improvement. The previous year, the spending in the three states was just nine per cent.

It is an irony that hasn’t been missed.

Social worker and former National Advisory Council (NAC) member N.C. Saxena said that the spending in the three eastern states should have ideally been higher than other states going by their rural poverty parameters.

The MGNREGA — the Act that guides the scheme — seeks to provide up to 100 days of unskilled employment to every rural household in one year to ensure cash flow to the very poor and check distress migration.

“Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand constitute a major chunk of poor people. Ideally, these states need the job scheme more acutely. But since spending on this scheme is so low, it is clear benefits don’t percolating down,” Saxena said.

He added Panchayati Raj institutions and respective district administrations responsible for planning and implementation weren’t doing their jobs.

Each panchayat has the power to plan projects under MGNREGS. Panchayat officials assess demand for work and prepare estimates, projecting labour budget for the year. Funds are released on the basis of the statewide labour budget. Wages are paid only after junior engineers measure the work to ensure the number of workers used is justified.

“There aren’t enough junior engineers. Measurement of work is delayed, payments are held up for months. Workers are disappointed,” Saxena said.

Social worker Shekhar Singh added another angle. “A feudal system prevails in rural areas of Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar where landlords don’t want MGNREGS. They prefer cheap labour for their farmlands instead,” he said.

“Though Panchayati Raj system seeks to decentralise power, panchayats are controlled by influential people” he added.

Munde stressed on restructuring the MGNREGS with focus on asset creation to ensure that jobs and development went hand in hand.

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