The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has been in operation for almost 18 months now. From the initial 200 the job guarantee scheme has been extended to 130 more districts since April this year.
Katni is one such beneficiary district in Madhya Pradesh. While the dedicated website of NREGA (NREGA(National Rural Employment Gurantee Act)) contains stories of successful implementation in different parts of the country, for people living in the villages of Katni corruption and mismanagement are the only guarantee. Here are some samples:
* Mohari, a resident of Matwar Padariya village, worked for four days and was paid Rs 260. But the entry in his job card states that he worked for six days and was paid Rs 400. Somebody had pocketed Rs 140.
* Mohari’s unlettered wife Pyaribai worked for two days but had not received a penny in wages until 14 July 2007 when activists of Suchana Adhikar Abhiyan visited the village. Somebody had pocketed the entire amount.
* Heerabai and Vidyabai - residents of the same village, worked for one day each and were paid Rs 60. But their job card contains an entry for four days of work and payment of Rs 400 per person. Somebody had pocketed Rs 680.
* Yashodabai and Kamalesh, also of Matwar Padariya, approached the sarpanch with a request for jobs but the sarpanch sent them away claiming that no jobs were available and that they would be informed when jobs turned up. Somebody forgot to give them their unemployment allowance.
* Verification of job cards in the villages of Matwar Padariya, Ghangri Khurd, Ghangri Kala, Kailwara Kala and Badera in Katni district by Abhiyan activists revealed that the job cards did not have photographs pasted on them. Villagers claimed that they posed for photographs during the months of May-June. Records obtained using the Right to Information Act showed that an NGO based in Katni had been awarded the contract through an open tender process for photographing villagers who applied for job cards. They were paid Rs 3.50 for every photograph clicked. Somebody forgot to paste photographs on the job cards distributed in these villages. Somebody else forgot to cross-check whether the contract had been completed satisfactorily or not.
* In many cases, the sarpanch or the secretary collected job cards from the villagers, made entries in the safety and comfort of their own homes and returned them to the unsuspecting owners. Somebody forgot to monitor the activities of the functionaries responsible for implementing NREGA at the village level.
* In Ghangri Khurd, people who applied for jobs were asked to dig 70 square feet of earth to earn Rs 67 the minimum wage payable under the NREGS. People worked for 1½ days and gave up as it was impossible even for the best of their able bodied men and women to meet the target. The soil was simply too hard. They informed the secretary of the Gram Panchayat in writing about their inability to continue work in that manner. The secretary forwarded their petition to the chief executive officer of the Janpad Panchayat (Block level Panchayat). None of those who toiled for 1½ days has been paid till date. No action has yet been taken on their petition. Somebody forgot to pay these people their dues. Somebody forgot to take action on their petition in a timely manner.
* In 10 out of the 18 villages surveyed by Abhiyan activists in Katni district, work under NREGS began without anybody applying for jobs. The residents were simply asked to go to the work site by the secretary or the sarpanch and start work from a certain appointed date. Somebody forgot to educate the residents of these villages that they could formally apply for jobs and indicate the number of days that they wanted to work.
* Many families of Deora Khurd applied for job cards and posed for photographs as well. But their job cards were not handed over. Somebody forgot to distribute the job cards.
Thankfully for the residents of Deora Khurd, when Abhiyan activists went visiting, they found someone who gave them a patient hearing and acted upon it. Within a day of the activists making enquiries, the sarpanch distributed more than 500 job cards - all done in two days flat (19th and 20th July). Not everybody would be so lucky particularly where there are no civic minded citizens watching over implementation of this law meant to curb poverty and create community assets in rural areas.
Suchana Adhikar Abhiyan has been actively working for spreading awareness about RTI in the Vindhya Mahakoshal region of Madhya Pradesh for more than four years. Abhiyan activists started educating people about their rights and entitlements under NREGA soon after the state government announced that the employment guarantee scheme would be extended to Katni. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative held an advanced capacity building workshop in June for its core members. Activists were familiarised with the nitty gritty of NREGA. They developed a strategy for using the RTI Act to obtain documents and verify implementation of the scheme at the ground level.
Five members of Abhiyan - Dr Rakesh Ranjan (Convenor), Vishwajeet Maity, Yogesh Pandey, Pramod Pandey and Deepak Srivastava - launched a implementation verification campaign on 7 July. They videographed testimonies of people who claimed to have worked under the scheme; the state of their job cards and the entries they contained and the documents that they obtained by using the RTI Act. They submitted a copy of the recording to the District Collector on 16 July based on a major portion of the data about corruption and mismanagement that they had collected. Even as they requested the district administration to conduct an investigation into the matter, the verification campaign continued in other villages. When approached with proof of corruption, the District Collector seemed surprised. Her surprise was not at the levels of corruption exposed but the fact that “NGOs” were meddling in government affairs. She is reported to have told the Abhiyan activists that the RTI Act and NREGA were laws passed by the government and that activists and non-government organisations did not have any role to play in its implementation after these laws had been passed!
Abhiyan activists persisted in their efforts. They sent copies of the recording and the petition to the secretary, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. The local media highlighted these instances of corruption. When pressured by media persons to react to the expose, the District Collector is reported to have convened a meeting of officials on Sunday the 22nd and entrusted the matter to the Block Development Officer for investigation. FIRs are likely to be filed against the secretaries and sarpanches of Matwar Padariya and Deora Khurd.
Abhiyan activists believe that this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg and corruption would not be possible without collusion between the panchayat functionaries and their seniors at the block and district level. They plan to take this campaign to its logical conclusion to fix accountability of officers at the higher level as well.
Things happening around and I was not aware about it. Even I did not read the local newspaper, at Katni where presently I am staying. This is the perfect case of what Prime Minister once said 'Professional Middleman"; creating and working for the right purpose.
Bangalore: Chief Justice of India (CJI) K G Balakrishan has expressed concern over the increasing "unholy nexus" among contractors and
government officers while implementing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
"Corruption is the main problem. The other issues are lack of transparency in maintaining muster rolls and records of wage payment," he said at a meeting on `supporting NREGS' by legal officials here on Saturday.
"The nexus has been made complicated by exploitation of illiterate people, especially those belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe categories. Women are more vulnerable," he explained.
According to him, NREGS is one of the most progressive social welfare measures undertaken in Indian in recent years. "The government is committed towards solving poverty in rural areas. But right now the goal of NREGS can be described as partially fulfilled."
A type of exploitation, he said, is to persuade an illiterate worker to leave his or her thumb impression on the wage acknowledgement slip. "But the payment is never made by officials," he added.
"Contractors are unwilling to give access to muster rolls even if workers or social activists demand for transparency. The records often indicate that a person has worked only for a few days on a site, while the reality would be the person has worked for a much longer period," he explained.
He asked legal officials to use the Right to Information Act to nail culprits. "Allocation of employment and payment of wages can be monitored through RTI," he said.