Shrewd timing MGNREGA becomes a political tool in Bihar

 

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The Congress, which fathered the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment   Guarantee

Scheme and prides itself on the achievement, may find itself on the back foot in Bihar, as the record of chief minister Nitish Kumar, its new ally in the state, of implementing the scheme has been found anything but praiseworthy. Indeed, the chinks in Kumar’s armour, his governance record in particular, are expected to be out in the open, as the Modi gov­ernment readies itself to implement a national e-payment scheme to streamline payments and plug leak­ages in the MGNREGS.

Referred to as a National Employ­ment Guarantee Fund (NEGF), it will entail payments being made directly by the Centre to beneficia­ries through accounts opened under the NEGF in nationalised banks, with the bank issuing cash on the basis of a pay order and seeking re-imburse- ment from the rural development ministry. The rural development ministry is racing against time to launch NEGF well before the elec­tions are announced in Bihar.

An eight-state survey has pre­ceded this decision. The eight states surveyed (sample size of 7,526 house­holds) are Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The survey paints a dismal picture of the former UPA government’s flagship scheme, especially in Bihar. In the three blocks (about 800 households)
studied in Bihar, that of Rafiagunj in Aurangabad district, Imamgunj in Gaya and Kadwa block in Katihar district, multiple job cards held by beneficiary families are as high as 50 per cent of the total households surveyed. Bogus attendance on mus­ter rolls shows it as high as 31 per cent, and the match between work done and wages received to be only 41 per cent.

The scheme and the survey could not have come at a better time for the BJP, which wound up the first leg of its campaign in Bihar and is launching the second phase on 26 August. “We shall be dispatching the campaign raths, which have already touched 43,000 villages in all districts of the state again – this time with details of our vision and the package announced by the prime minister,” said Bhupendra Yadav, general secretary in charge of Bihar.

Serious loopholes

Sources in the rural development ministry point out that the govern­ment is under pressure to weed out ‘fake’ job cards in MGNREGA. The lat­est report by the Standing Commit­tee on Rural Development has found serious loopholes in implementa­tion of the schemes and desired that the government should take cor­rective steps.

In its 14th report, The panel said that the committee had taken note of many discrepancies like issue of
“fake job cards, inclusion of ficti­tious names, unlawful possession of job cards,” with influential people including elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions or MGN­REGA functionaries. It has strongly emphasised the need for bringing reform in the process of issue of job cards by making these offences pun­ishable under section 25 of MGNREGA, conducting random inspection of job cards, linking job cards with Vot- er-lD/Aadhar cards for minimising chances of fake/multiple job cards and bring job cards within the ambit of social audit or audit under the directions of the CAG.

The committee also noted with concern that the participation of women under MGNREGA has been less than the national average in some of the states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and that these states have failed to meet the statutory requirement of providing one third employment to women beneficiaries. Bihar has a history of scams when it comes to the MGNREGA. In 2009, it turned out that implementing authorities had embezzled almost 70 per cent of the funds allotted to the scheme. Yet, in March this year, the state government cried foul when the Union budget cut the state’s out­lay by 20 per cent.

In June, Mihir Kumar Singh, com­missioner, MGNREGA, Bihar, wrote a frantic letter to the Ministry of Rural Development, asking for funds. If they were not received, the state would not be able to continue the programme, he warned. Towards the end of August, S.M. Raju, secretary of the state’s rural development depart­ment, also wrote a letter citing further liabilities and asking the government to clear them. A senior official from Bihar said that the funds received in August had been exhausted clear­ing liabilities from the previous year. “The government is now asking us to give evidence of our liabilities,” he said. “We will now have to continue the programme only with a backlog of wages. This is how it happens with all the states.”

♦ RAKESH JOSHI [email protected]

 

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