The implementation of the scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) might not be as great a success here as the government and social auditors have claimed it to be across the country.
If statements of rural people of Bundelkhand are to be believed, the NREGA has practically failed in either providing employment, curbing migration or creating viable community assets.
In the last three years, the State government has spent over Rs.8,000 crore on the scheme. However, results remain unsatisfactory. Corruption and delayed payment of wages plague the NREGA apparatus in Chhattarpur and Tikamgarh. Reports from other districts also paint a similar grim picture.
The Union government recently increased the number of job days from 100 to 200, but people here are not celebrating and would prefer migrating to Delhi. Asked why people did not want to work under the scheme, Chhattarpur Collector E. Ramesh Kumar said:"The NREGA is a demand driven scheme. We can provide work only if it is demanded. Still, we are working towards generating demand by spreading awareness of the Act."
"Rozgaar guarantee mein kyun kaam karein [why should we work under the scheme]," asks Bootha Ahirwar, a farmer from Majhora in the Bakswaha block. "We have to pay bribes, face intimidation and still wages are never paid on time. Private employers pay less, but at least we get paid at the end of the day."
Withholding job cards
Add to this the high-handedness of panchayat officials. Villagers from Dheemarpura, Khandwa, Bairbaar, Pathara in Tikamgarh district complained that their job cards were being withheld by the sarpanch. "My card has been with the sarpanch for the past two years. Whenever I ask for it, he threatens me and says there is no work for me," says Daru Saur, only tribal from Tikamgarh district's Binwara, where not a single gram sabha has been held for the last five years.
"We have had some complaints, but action has been taken and the cards have been returned to people," says R.G.Ahirwar, CEO, Janpad in the Niwadi block. The villagers, however, say the returned cards have been taken away once again. Further, the basic premise of the NREGA, that is, consultation with the community through gram sabhas on the nature of work to be taken up has hardly been fulfilled. In most villages, gram sabhas have not been convened for years.
As a result, community participation is largely absent. This has been reflected in the consistent degradation of traditional waterbodies in the region. The NREGA could have been a means of rejuvenating 1,600 such structures in Chhattarpur and Tikamgarh, but authorities seem to have lost that opportunity.
The State government's Kapil Dhara Scheme, which has been virtually imposed on villagers by being clubbed with the NREGA, has only contributed to the crisis. Under this, unviable wells have been sunk, the cost of which has been borne by farmers. Moreover, they have to bribe the sarpanch, anywhere between Rs.3,000 and Rs. 7,000 to get wells allotted.
As wage payments under the NREGA are delayed, the farmers have to pay labourers who dig the wells. Forty-year-old Munni Bai of Akona mortgaged her jewellery to bribe the sarpanch and got a well allotted to her. The cycle of corruption, involving the sarpanch, the panchayat secretary and the block CEO (at the initial stage) and the sub-engineer (later at the evaluation stage) is quite vicious.
At Akona in the Rajnagar block, villagers allege that irregularities have been committed in payment of wages (Rs. 5 lakh) and in procurement of raw materials for wells (Rs. 7 lakh). All this money has been released only on paper. The result? Only four of the 13 sanctioned wells have been dug till date, with one belonging to the community and the other three private wells.
"I had to pay Rs.20,000 as labour charges, Rs.10,000 for water pumps, Rs.10,000 in bribes and Rs. 5,000 for raw material for the construction of a well on my land," says Lallu Ahirwar of Akona . "To pay the loan I took for this back with interest, I had to sell one acre out of four acres of my land," he says.
People from Akona, alleging the involvement of a former panchayat secretary and the Rajnagar CEO, have signed a petition to the Collector, demanding a probe into the matter.
However, "the last time we went to the Collector with our demands, he refused to talk to us," says Mahipal Singh Rathore, an advocate from the village.
Ambiguity over costs
Further, there is ambiguity over the exact construction cost of the wells. While the sarpanch quotes Rs.1,80,000, the district administration puts the estimate at Rs.1,65,000. According to the beneficiaries, just Rs.1,10,000 is sufficient.
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