Monday, 30th October 2017

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Self defeating game

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By The recently held NREGA audit brought out glaring problems. Stan Swamy suggests some corrective steps
  • Published 5.06.07

In Chatarpur block of Palamau district, about 280 villagers applied for jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The rule says that within 15 days they should have been provided with work, failing which, they should have been given unemployment allowance from the government.

They waited for a month. Nothing happened. From May 1, they sat on a dharna in front of the BDO office. When there was still no response, many of them began to migrate to other states. In the Topchanchi block, Dhanbad, officials apparently even refused to entertain applications, saying there is a quota system and applications could not be accepted.

These are not stray examples. The principal secretary of the state rural development department, A.K. Singh, may have cautioned district administration blocks to adhere to NREGA rules under all circumstances, and asked social workers to provide details of anomalies, assuring a probe, the fact is implementation of NREGA in the state remains one of the least satisfactory in the country.

Members of the central employment guarantee council, who examined the functioning of NREGA in Jharkhand in four blocks, have observed that 96 per cent of labourers were not employed in response to their applications and nearly 79 per cent labourers complained of delayed payment.

Schemes are given to middle-men and professional contractors and not to village cooperatives. Postmasters take a cut in the process of making payments to labourers and muster rolls are not kept as per rule. In fact, there has been an instance when a postmaster in Ranchi collected Rs 10,000 in a single day as bribe while disbursing money to the villagers for the work they had done. What was also stressed at the recent social audit was the lack of awareness among villagers regarding NREGA. “There is a need to create awareness among the villagers about NREGA. Unless they are aware of the schemes offered, there are bound to be problems,” said Aruna Roy, a member of the central employment guarantee council.

So, what’s next?

The state government’s response that it will itself do the audit is anything but a self defeating game. Its idea that it will appoint a commission composed of retired administrative officers, engineers and professors, apart from some select NGOs, will hardly take it anywhere.

The hard fact is that most of these retired officers have spent their entire careers in this corrupt system and hardly any of them openly confronted corruption during their many years of service. Now that they are retired and comfortably settled, they are asked to take on corruption in the implementation of NREGA. It is not going to work. For one, most of these retired sahibs are used to comforts during their travels.

By the time they reach the project-sites, the horses would have bolted from the stable or have readymade false accounts to show. People living below poverty line will be told to wait for better times to come. Thousands of crores allotted for NREGA will go down the drain. And that will be the end of it.

The fact is, only those who are victims of corruption will be able to correct it. The corrective mechanisms should be on the spot and have a stable presence in the area. Such measures can come from the people themselves (see box).

Entrusting the social audit to those people who have been part of the system will be a waste. They have grown and flourished within the system. It is the poor who have been kept at the receiving end for too long and should become active participants in the process of taking their lives back into their own hands.