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Updated on Monday, June 09, 2014  
NREGA - The Great Job Robbery Programme
"The objectives of NREGA was to economically empower the poor communities and ensuring Food Security by providing to each job card holder with 100 days of work. But the objectives lost importance for the implementers who rather focused on making a profit out of it leaving the poor families jobless as always. Large scale corruption from Gram Panchayat to Block, District and State Headquarters took the programme in a direction putting its objectives aside. Even though government of India started the programme for the benefit of the poor, no proper monitoring system was set to see that the programme remains committed to its objectives which ultimately converted NREGA from a job guarantee programme to a Job robbery opportunity. Here is how, in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bundelkhand, the programme benefited the contractors and people in power leaving poor as it is."

Parshuram Rai

   

It is now well known that Madhya Pradesh has secured top position in spending NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) funds during last year (2007-8). What, however, is not so well known is that about 75 percent of the NREGS funds have been siphoned off by Percentage Raj prevailing in the State. The modus operandi of participatory loot of NREGS funds by sarkari babus is very well organized.

As  per the data posted on the NREGA website of the Union Ministry of Rural Development (http://nrega.nic.in/ ) , Madhya Pradesh (MP) was provided a total amount of Rs. 3288 crore under the NREGS and was able to spend  a total amount of Rs. 2891 crore  during 2007-08 . With this amount of expenditure,   2753 lakh persondays of wage  employment was given to  4346916  households of the state during this period . To put it differently, 43,46,916 households of Madhya Pradesh  were given 63 days of average employment  during 2007-8. The total employment given to the Schedule Caste (SC) workers was about  491 lakh persondays and  that  figure for Schedule  Tribe (ST) workers  was  1342 lakh persondays . What a terrific performance ! 

However, a study carried out by Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) gives a totally different and dismal picture of the performance of the NREGS in MP. The following findings of our study reveal the ground reality and actual performance of the NREGS in   Madhya Pradesh.

During first 10 months of  2007-8(April 2007-January 2008), the sample households  have got only  10.61 days of average employment  and just  2.36 percent of the sample households have got  100 days of  wage employment. It is shocking to note that 65.39 percent of the sample households have not received even a single day of  employment during the  year ( April 2007-January 2008) . Moreover, 38.49 percent of the sample households have never  got any employment under the NREGS.

Our study suggests that actually not more than 16 days of average employment was given to the needy households during 2007-8. When we compare the Government figures with the figures of CEFS survey, we get the true picture of the NREGS in   MP. According to CEFS survey, during first 10 months of 2007-8, the sample households in MP were given only   10.61 days of average employment. So, the average employment during 12 months of the financial year 2007-8   comes to about 13 days. Even if we add 3 days more on account of margin of error, the average employment figure for the year comes to only 16 days. Therefore, the average employment figure of 63 days claimed by the Government of MP is about 4 times more than the CEFS figure of 16 days.

This difference arises because all the facts and figures given by the Government of Madhya Pradesh are apparently based on faked job entries in the job cards and muster rolls of the state. Only about  one-fourth (25 percent) of the  job figures are actual and the remaining three-fourth (75 percent) of the job figures are based on faked  job entries in job cards and muster rolls of the state . So,  it is obvious that only about  25 percent of the NREGS funds have actually reached intended beneficiaries and the remaining  about 75 percent  of the NREGS funds in Madhya Pradesh   have been siphoned off and  sucked by the “black-holes” of the prevailing Percentage Raj  . To put this in figure, of a total amount of Rs.2,891 crore spent on NREGS during  2007-8 , about Rs 2,100 crore has apparently been  siphoned off and misappropriated by  executing officials of the implementing agencies. We found irregularities as the only regular thing in the NREGS of Madhya Pradesh .

This open loot of the NREGS funds in Madhya Pradesh has been truly participatory. A certain percentage of the  booty  has gone at every level of  sanctioning and executing  authority starting from the district to block to Grampanchayat. The percentage varies from district to district , block to block and Grampanchayat to Grampanchayat. But  this participatory loot is very well organized and  institutionalized . There may be isolated cases of  certain honest officials not taking any percentage from this loot , however, it is absolutely impossible that even a single district, block or  Grampanchayat level  functionary is unaware about the shocking , outrageous and scandalous scale of the prevailing percentage raj in  the NREGS of Madhya Pradesh .

We were told by many Sarpanches, Panchayat Secretaries and local activists that the NREGS projects  are sanctioned and  funds  released  by  concerned authorities only  after they receive their  pound of flesh (a certain percentage of money from  project fund)  in advance  . Unless a Sarpanch or Panchayat Secretary is able  to  make  advance  payments of percentage money  to various senior officials , the NREGS funds are not released. Many Panchayat functionaries on condition of anonymity narrated their harrowing experiences of the prevailing percentage raj in  the NREGS. One Sarpanch of Chattarpur district told us that 3 NREGS projects were sanctioned for his Grampanchayat but  funds were not being released because he did not have sufficient money to make percentage payments in advance.

 We saw innumerable  tree plantation projects  executed under NREGS without a single surviving sapling or plant . You can see hundreds of miles of tree-guards on either side of roads without a single plant or sapling inside them. We also came across many ghost NREGS projects. We saw  job entries and project entries  on job cards without any project of that name ever executed in the village. We also saw many  already existing roads , ponds and tanks  converted and shown as fresh NREGS projects  with just  nominal earth work or minor modifications.  You can see muster rolls  with  60-100 days’ of faked job entries in the name of   government servants and their family members, dead persons, prosperous families , businessmen, teachers ,  army soldiers and  also in the name of family members of  journalists .

You can see  thousands  of Grampanchayats in MP where big NREGS projects   with costs ranging  from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 1 crore have been executed by the  line agencies like RES (rural engineering services) and Irrigation Department. Local activists told us that  bigger the project cost higher the level  of corruption . Moreover , since most of the big cost projects are executed directly  by line agencies like RES, there is hardly any one who could  really  monitor or question any thing about these projects. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) have no role in the implementation and monitoring of big projects executed by line agencies . Most of these big projects engage contractors in one form or the other and  use labour-displacing /cost-saving heavy machinery  .  These big projects  completely  negate the spirit and objectives of NREGS   . The big NREGS projects executed by the line agencies  are more of   income guarantee schemes for urbane engineers and  very less of employment guarantee schemes for the rural poor.

Line Agencies : Main architects of NREGS scam

What is the modus operandi of the  great job robbery in  Madhya Pradesh ?

First,  the officials  give hugely inflated  cost estimates of the NREGS  projects , in many cases 2 times more than the actual cost .

Second, most works in the projects executed by line agencies like RES   have been done by banned heavy machines like dumpers and JCBs and  very few labourers  have been  engaged in these projects . This brings down the labour cost to less than one third. Is NREGS employment guarantee scheme for dumpers and JCBs or employment guarantee scheme for  poor labourers ?

Third, since the line agency has to mandatorily show  60 percent of the  project  expenditure on account of  wage employment to labourers , this  forged employment is  shown  through  faked job entries on  job cards and  muster rolls  .

Fourth, shoddy quality of work has been done  with very poor quality  of   material  used in the projects ;  inflated bills and  forged vouchers  being an  essential  part of the game  .

Fifth , complete  secrecy of the project related documents and non-sharing of  the   project related information  with the PRIs, civil society groups or citizens . The RES  cares  two hoots about the RTI (Right to Infotrmation Act). It blocks information at every level, being well aware that  its game plan might be exposed  if all  project related documents are put  in  public domain . There is hardly any information about these projects posted on the NREGA website . Most online job cards  are blank . So much in the name of transparency and  public scrutiny ! 

Nine months of our   intensive research and investigation on the implementation of the NREGS in Madhya Pradesh  has led us to conclude that  there has been not only very high level of financial bungling and  various irregularities in  the projects executed by  line agencies like RES, but also that very little actual wage employment has been  given to labourers and most  works have been done by heavy machines like JCBs and dumpers. Transparency safeguards in these projects are  absolutely  non-existent . If an independent  enquiry is conducted on all the NREGS projects executed by the line agencies like RES, a huge NREGS scam would  come to the fore . We firmly believe that  the moment   RES  makes public all the job related documents , most officials of the RES would immediately go behind the bars. Unfortunately, they  are unlikely to make public  the actual documents because they are acutely aware about the fatal implications of this disclosure. But where is social audit and other transparency safeguards of the NREGS ? The Government of Madhya Pradesh owes an explanation to  the  nation.

Hunger , poverty and distress migration

The level of hunger , poverty and human deprivation  in the sample districts ( Shivpuri,Chhattarpur,Tikamgarh, Dhar and Jhabua) is comparable to only KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir -Koraput) region of Orissa. Last year , CEFS had carried out a similar study in the KBK region of Orissa and  found that  about 70-75 percent of the NREGS funds in Orissa were siphoned off  by sarkari babus while most population of the region is  living  a  life of semi-starvation and extreme poverty. The  living condition of the  people  in sample villages of MP is almost similar to that of KBK  people .

The  level of poverty and  deprivation , especially in  3  Bundelkhand districts-Shivpuri,Chhattarpur and Tikamgarh , is  dehumanizing and unconscionable . We found  large number of families, especially adivasis in Tikamgarh, Shivpuri and Chhattarpur , literally surviving   by eating  chapattis  made of  wild grass like jathara . Many   adivasi families brought out from their homes and showed us these wild foods . Where is emerging India and its  9percent of GDP growth  ? We owe an explanation to our starving  compatriots .

The  current level of hunger, poverty and deprivation in  MP’s rural areas is as  deep, demeaning and dehumanising as ever despite the so- called successful implementation of the NREGS with the highest  expenditure of funds (Rs 2891 crore) anywhere in the country. The Rural Employment Scheme has made virtually zero impact on the livelihood security of MP’s rural poor.There  is no let up in the level of distress migration of adivasis and dalits from MP’s Bundelkhand region in search of livelihood in other parts of the country. Hunger and abject poverty  are widespread in all the  125 sample villages  we visited. Large number of children in these villages are suffering from severe malnutrition. Hunger and abject poverty are  apparent and writ large on the hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes and distended bellies of the  children. 

 Most  dalit and adivasi families  of   3 sample districts of Bundelkhand  are living a life of chronic hunger and semi-starvation .The prevailing  drought  has  only exacerbated  the livelihood crises in  Bundelkhand region . Most traditional sources of water (old  tanks , open wells and hand pumps )  had dried up, cattle were dying, agricultural fields were barren and  villages looked  deserted  due to out-migration of  labourers.

 The  level of distress migration was very high in Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh and Jhabua districts . Over 70-80 percent working population  of these  3 districts have migrated out to cities and towns in search of wage employment. We saw dozens of villages in these 3 districts where only old, infirm and children  have been left behind in the villages and every adult  person has migrated to cities and towns in search of wage employment . In fact , the problem of  distress migration in Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh and Jhabua district is much worse than that  in Kalahandi and Bolangir  districts of Orissa . Most  workers of Tikamgarh and Chhattarpur have migrated to Delhi and its suburbs, and   Jhabua’s  Bhil adivasis have migrated to  brick-kilns in Gujarat .We found many villages facing   acute distress migration not getting any NREGS  employment at all  or getting just nominal jobs for few days. Any one visiting these villages can see that  there has been absolutely NO impact of the  NREGS on  distress migration .

Is this the kind of  wage employment and livelihood security the  NREGS is supposed to provide to the  rural poor of India ?

(Parsuram Rai is a Development Activist and the Director of Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS), New Delhi)

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