Best district in rural jobs scheme - really?

April 9th, 2011 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Ganjam (Orissa), April 9 (IANS) The home district of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was twice awarded for best practices in the implementation of the rural jobs scheme. But a report by a Delhi-based NGO reveals that the yearly average employment per household in the district was less than half a day.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), launched in 2006, guarantees 100 days of employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

“People in this district got only less than half a day of work during October 2009 to September 2010 under the scheme,” Parshuram Ray, director of the Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS), told IANS.

Ray said his organisation conducted a performance audit of 10 food security and poverty alleviation schemes, including NREGS, in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

It included a study of 25 very poor Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households of each of the over dozen villages surveyed in Ganjam.

“In fact, the district was included in this survey so that NREGS best practices could be learned and prescribed for other districts in the country,” he said.

“But, sadly, we have ended up discovering only worst practices in this so-called best practice district. We even found a village where not a single person had been provided a single day of employment for the past four years, he said.

“During the July-October 2010 audit, we found the average employment provided to per eligible household in this district during the previous year was less than half day (0.26 day to be precise),” he said.

However, district collector V. Karthikeyan Pandian denied these allegations. He said Ganjam has a rural population of about 500,000 and at least 30,000 people were provided jobs in 2006 when the scheme was launched. The number has in the meantime gone up to 150,000.

“These employed people have produced 50 days of work - one of the highest in the country. The scheme is demand driven. Everyone in the district does not want to be an NREGS worker,” he said.

“We are one of the few districts in the country where payments to workers are being made through 250,000 bank accounts that we have created. We are also the first district in the country to have a toll-free number to receive complaints related to the scheme,” he added.

But Rai disputed the figure. “All the 300 surveyed households put together had got only 80 days of job, as against their total entitlement of 30,000 days,” he explained.

It is a tragic irony that this district was declared as the best practice district in NREGS in 2009 and 2010, he said.

The CESF report also said that 77 percent of the very poor and needy sample households in Orissa didn’t get even a single day of employment during the period.

The report cited the plight of Biripurm, a village in Ganjam district.

Of the 300 households in this village, 100 are Scheduled Caste. Of these, about one third are absolutely landless and survive by earning Rs.50-60 for casual labour.

“Not a single person of this deprived village had been given even a single day of NREGS employment,” Ray said.

In the last five years, people have got only 15-20 days of job. Over 40 percent of the male members have migrated to neighbouring the Andhra Pradesh state in search of employment.

According to Ray, the villagers alleged that “the sarpanch (village council chief) demands Rs.300-500 as bribe for making job cards”.

“There has been no social audit of any NREGS project and transparency and accountability provisions are non-existent,” he said.

The CEFS had carried out a similar survey few years ago which was published in July 2008.

The Supreme Court recently asked the central government to decide on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allegations of siphoning of funds meant for NREGS in Orissa on the basis of a petition filed by the same NGO.

(Jatindra Dash can be contacted at jatindra.d@ians.in)

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