Scurry to plug loopholes in job scheme process
The Bengal government has taken a first-of-its-kind initiative to plug loopholes in the implementation process of projects taken up under the 100-day job scheme and sent a detailed list of dos and don’ts to panchayat functionaries.
The move, sources said, was a fallout of the Centre’s decision to hold the release of Rs 6,500 crore — Rs 3,000 crore for wages and Rs 3,500 crore for material costs — under the MGNREGA for Bengal, citing several alleged anomalies identified by national-level monitoring teams that had visited the state last year.
Besides, as the state is yet to send satisfactory replies to the questions raised by the Centre, New Delhi hasn’t approved Bengal’s labour budget under the MGNREGA for the 2022-23 financial year. So, no work could be started in the current financial year even though two months have passed.
“The district magistrates have been asked to ensure that no questions are raised on the expenditure under the MGNREGA in future. It has to be realised that if funds for the scheme are held back, it leaves a huge impact in the rural
areas,” said a senior bureaucrat.
Soon after the instruction was sent from the top brass of the government, the district magistrates have started passing messages to the panchayat functionaries as well as officials looking after the MGNREGA in their districts concerned.
One of the DMs in south Bengal has sent a detailed message to those responsible to carry out the 100-day job scheme pointing out areas that have to be looked after immediately so that no question can be raised over expenditure incurred under the scheme.
The DM has clearly mentioned in his message that no panchayat will be allowed to purchase any sapling for plantation scheme. He also said labour payment for plantation schemes would be cleared only after physical verification of such projects.
The national-level monitoring teams had raised a maximum number of questions over plantation schemes undertaken by the rural bodies in the past few years.
“Several questions were raised about the plantation schemes, starting from false purchase of saplings to engagement of more labourers than required in a scheme. The state is facing trouble to give a proper reply to the questions sent by the Centre. So, keeping all plantation schemes under the scanner from the beginning is a good decision,” said a source.
With regard to the Centre pressing the pause button on the fund release, The Telegraph had reported on Thursday that the root of the problem was the government’s decision to create additional 3 crore mandays — without New Delhi’s approval — over and above the approved labour budget of 27 crore mandays which had been exhausted in November last year. The state government thought of creating more mandays because of heavy demand for jobs in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“But the problem is critical because the Centre did not approve the additional mandays created without the prior approval and also the labour budget for the 2022-23 financial year was not approved yet.,” said an official.
The DM also pointed out in his message that all papers related to the MGNREGA had to be prepared within seven days.
This instruction is also significant, sources said, as the Centre has raised questions over incomplete paper works while seeking clarifications over expenditure.
The Centre had also pointed out that GI (geographical indication) tagging of projects was not done in many cases, which was the reason why the monitoring teams did not find the existence of many projects even though funds were spent.
The Centre raised questions whether the projects were undertaken at all even though funds were spent.
The DM has also instructed the officials that GI tagging of all pending projects have to be done within seven days.
A senior official has pointed out that what the DM has instructed is the normal procedure of the MGNREGA.
“But as he has to give instructions to complete these within seven days, it is clear that all these rules were flouted in the state so far. Now that the Centre has held back the funds, the administration is desperate to plug the loopholes,” said the senior official.
Trinamul Congress insiders said the government had taken initiatives to send proper replies to the Centre with all relevant papers so that funds for the ongoing financial year were cleared at the earliest.
“We have to face panchayat polls next year. If people don’t get jobs under the MGNREGA, we will face people’s wrath in the forthcoming rural polls,” said a Trinamul MLA.