India File

Making a mockery of MGNREGA

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on December 18, 2018

Ram Shelke is looking for work to survive drought as, unlike other villagers, he cannot migrate because of old age.

Plantation worth ₹1 crore carried out in Rampur village under MGNREGA

The bund constructed by a contractor in Rampur.

In Maharashtra, it appears the rural jobs scheme is being implemented on paper alone. Contractors, government officials and gram sabha heavyweights cream away the funds,reports Radheshyam Jadhav

Bapu Athavale is one of the 32,824 job cardholders under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme in drought-affected Jat taluka of Sangli district of Maharashtra.

Like other job cardholders, he was expecting some work under the scheme, but one day he received a call from the employment guarantee assistant in Rampur Gram Panchayat that the government has deposited ₹11,600 into his bank account and that he must withdraw the money and give it to the contractor.

“The contractor has worked on your behalf and completed the MGNREGA work, so the money goes to him,” the employment guarantee assistant told Bapu. Accordingly, Bapu withdrew money from the bank with the help of the contractor and gave it to him.

A farm labourer who doubles up as a cattle trader, Bapu is not exactly aware of what MGNREGA is and why the contractor is working on his behalf.

Exploited by contractors

But this is not an isolated case. There are many like Bapu in Jat taluka who don’t even know what they have to do with their job cards. “Political leaders across party lines collect documents from villagers and carry out all the procedures required to get them job cards. The cards that are issued are with local politicians-cum-contractors who carry out MGNREGA works with the help of machinery. On paper, they show that job cardholders have done the work. They withdraw the money from their bank accounts and many of the villagers have even surrendered their ATM cards to contractors,” says Vikram Dhone, a local youth who, along with others, has been raising his voice against the nexus between government babus, politicians and bank officials.

For the last three years, the government has launched various MGNREGA probes in Jat taluka and has suspended 11 officials till date.

But this has not changed anything on the ground. Many poor, illiterate villagers say that local politicians and contractors give them some money whenever they ask for it, especially during the weekly market day.

Enriching govt babus only

One of the officials in the Jat Panchayat Samiti says that over ₹5 crore has been released under the scheme in Jat taluka in the last few years to carry out various works, especially drought relief works, including construction of bunds, reservoirs and water conservation works.

“Look at this bund. This was constructed under MGNREGA within a couple of days using JCB machine. This is a fragile bund and it has no capacity to store any water,” says Kerrappa Hubal, a local youth in Rampur village, pointing towards a bund. “All drought relief works are carried out by contractors and politicians. The scheme has changed the fortunes of politicians, contractors and government babus in Jat taluka. However, we continue to walk miles and miles for a pot of water and in search of jobs,” he says, standing near the bund.

He informs that the dry patch in the village was ‘developed’ under the scheme and ₹1 crore was spent on the plantation. One can see some fragile neem saplings on the spot. In some villages, bunds were ‘constructed’ on the existing bunds and roads were constructed where roads already existed, says Nitin Shivsharan, another villager.

The MGNREGA is supposed to provide for at least 100 days of wage employment to every rural household whose adult members are willing to do unskilled manual work. An additional 50 days of wage employment are provided over and above 100 days in the notified drought-affected areas of the States on the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. Whatever government might say, villagers in Jat have altogether different stories to tell about the scheme.

 

Ram Shelke, an elderly villager from Washan village who doesn’t remember how old he is, gasps while walking behind his cattle. Even as he finds it difficult to speak clearly because of weakness, Ram is more than willing to share his story. “I come from a shepherd community. Survival has become difficult. It is just the beginning of what could be another severe drought. I am looking for some work as I can’t migrate from my village. I am too old,” he says. When asked about the job card, he smiles. “I think I got some card from Panchayat. It must be the same what you are asking. But it is another piece of paper. Government scheme is running on paper,” he says, and moves on.

Job cards, yes, but no jobs

Out of 4,444 works under the scheme in Jat taluka in the last three years, 2,822 are incomplete and today only 55 works are operational, according to the government records. An estimated 25,000 people from the taluka have already migrated to other parts of the district and the State, in search of livelihood, as water scarcity is grave and there is no work.

The senior government official, who requested anonymity, said that the administration has prepared the list of 2,459 works under the scheme. “But people don’t need work. If they come asking for work, we have the work for them. But they prefer migration,” she says, adding that villagers are responsible for the corruption in the scheme!

But Ram doesn’t know what the officer is talking about. Like Ram, Babytai Wagh and women farmers from Washim district in the farmer suicide zone of Vidarbha region have not received any work in the last two years. “But our cards are in demand,” says Babytai, who explains how the scheme works on the ground.

Their cards are being used by contractors to fetch money and Babytai wanders miles looking for work. “We have to live in this village,” she prefers to say when asked about the misuse of their cards.

Cause of death: Starvation

In Rakba Dulma Patti village of Uttar Pradesh, just a few km away from UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s hometown of Gorakhpur, the story is no better. Virendra Musahar, who comes from the “Mahadalit” community here, has registered himself as an MGNREGA worker but has not got any work.“I am ready to do any work. I need work. My kids need food,” says Virendra, who lost his wife Sangeeta, six-year-old son Shyam and two-month-old daughter Geeta in September this year.

The government record cites diarrhoea as the reason for the deaths, but Virendra and his three malnourished children tell the real story. Virendra says that he had to sell his handcart a few months ago as the family was struggling to survive. He started working as a daily wage labourer, but hardly got any work.

“There is no work and no money. My wife and kids died of starvation. We try to survive eating anything that is available,” he says, adding that they hardly get anything from the government fair price shop. However, the UP government has already declared that there is no starvation death in the State.“I don’t know where the money for the poor goes,” says Virendra.

Interestingly, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley indicated that MGNREGA is likely to get approximately ₹5,000 crore more than the Budget estimate of ₹55,000 crore during the current fiscal. “To help the poorest, under the Rural Employment Scheme this year, close to ₹60,000 crore, if not more, will be spent on MGNREGA,” he said.

During the current FY2018-19 (as on 20.07.2018), an amount of ₹34,290.14 crore has been released to States for liquidating the pending liability of wage component and for running the programme during FY2018-19.

Answering the question on cases of irregularities/misappropriation of funds under MGNREGS, the Ministry of Rural Development, in a written reply, told the Lok Sabha recently that complaints of irregularities/misappropriation of funds in implementation of MGNREGS are received in the Ministry from time to time.

“Since the responsibility of implementation of MGNREGS is vested with the state governments/UTs, all complaints received in the Ministry are forwarded to the concerned state governments/UTs for taking appropriate action including investigation, as per law”.

The Ministry added that with a view to bring in more transparency in the system and to minimise leakages, Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system in wage payment has been adopted. The Ministry has introduced Electronic Fund Management System (e-FMS) under which 96 per cent of wage payments are electronically credited into the accounts of the workers through DBT system.

 

The poor have no voice

“The government is ignoring facts. There are no jobs and employment opportunities. The situation is worsening on the ground. What could be worse than people succumbing to hunger because they don’t have work and food? But nobody is talking about starvation and MGNREGA. This link is missing in public and political discourse,” says Siraj Dutta, an activist from Jharkhand.

In all the 18 starvation deaths in Jharkhand in recent times, one can notice that though most of them had job cards, there was no work available, he says. “There was a case where a family’s job card was deleted by the government because there was no Aadhaar seeding. Later, the card was added online. But the family was not even aware of what was happening to their card,” says Dutta.

Activist Bharat Patankar, who spoke out against corrupt practices in Rojgar Hami Yojana (employment guarantee scheme), the first of its kind which was started in Maharashtra in 1977, says that one has to understand why nobody wants to talk about MGNREGA.

“The Rojgar Hami Yojana. which is the model scheme on which MGNREGA is based, was controlled by the administration. We launched a series of agitations in 1980s against substandard works done under the scheme and the administration was under fire. In MGNREGA, in the name of the democratic system, all rights have been given to Gram Sabhas. Our friends who insist on democratic participation are not ready to understand the ground reality of caste and class structures in villages,” says Patankar.

Poor people, especially from the backward castes who register themselves as workers, don’t have any voice, he points out.

“Gram Sabhas and Gram Panchayats are dominated by local political heavyweights and they join hands with babus and banks to manipulate works. The poor have no say in the system and they don’t have any courage to raise their voice. That is why you don’t find any heated debates and discussions on corruption in MGNREGA. There is no popular pressure and hence political parties at the State and at the national level are not bothered about what is happening on the ground,” says Patankar.

Man-days must go up

President of All India Kisan Sabha, Ashok Dhawale, who hails from Nashik and was a key player in farmers' mobilisation around Mumbai, says a large number of poor peasants also work on MGNREGA, not just landless agriculture workers.

“They are forced to work on MGNREGA because their land does not suffice for them to survive,” he tells BusinessLine. He observes: “The number of man-days has come down abysmally in the last four years. We demand that the man-days provided under the scheme should be increased. Wages have not been revised in the last four years. They should be revised at the earliest. The prices of all essential commodities saw a rise in the last four years. Payment of dues should also be cleared.”

 

With inputs from Tina Edwin and

AM Jigeesh

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on December 17, 2018
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor