The government has cancelled nearly a crore of fake ‘job cards’ in the MGNREGA scheme, plugging a major source of fund leakage in one of the world’s biggest employment guarantee programmes, officials have said.
The scheme, launched under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, ensures employment to the rural population through one job card to each family.
By removing 9.3 million job cards, the officials said, the number of fake beneficiaries stuck off from the scheme was more than 31 million.
Officials said the cancelled job cards amount to more than 14% of the active households engaged in the job scheme, launched by the previous Congress-led UPA government.
The Narendra Modi government, which stormed to power in 2014 with the promise of rooting out corruption, has been trying to ensure that social scheme benefits are more target-oriented, thus narrowing the scope of fraud. It has also linked LPG subsidy and school midday meals to Aadhaar, so that the government could ensure that funds go only to the beneficiaries.
Officials said the need to clean up the MGNREGA scheme was felt after rampant leakage of funds and diversion of money was reported from several states.
“We have done a house-to-house survey to check the authenticity of MGNREGA workers. We have focused on two things: migration and death of job seekers. In the job cards, we look at Aadhaar numbers, photos of beneficiaries and details of payments,” said rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha.
The job scheme had even become a bone of contention between the Congress and the BJP, with the latter accusing the Congress of plundering government money in a ill-conceived scheme.
After coming to power, the BJP decided to revive the scheme and also to clean it up. As the government renewed its focus on the rural and farm sectors, Modi directed officials to ensure transparency and accountability on MGNREGA.
The highest number of fake job cards, 21.67 lakhs, were cancelled in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh while in Uttar Pradesh, 19.4 lakh cards were scrapped. Among the big states, fake cards have not been found in Telangana so far.
The job card holds the key to not only securing a job but also payments. Every job card holder is entitled to employment under the act.
In the initial years of MGNREGA, there were reports of rampant corruption as the process was mostly manual. Fake entries were made in job sheets to divert funds, job cards existed in non-existent names. In many cases, people held multiple cards in a bid to draw added benefits.
For the past one year, the rural development ministry had embarked on a mission to clear the muster rolls of all fake cards by shifting to an electronic muster roll of beneficiaries and pushing the aadhar-based payment system.
The government, however said it might still be a long way to ensure a full-proof system in MGNREGA.
“We have to update the masterroll and conduct surveys regularly. It is not a one-time job,” said joint secretary Aparajita Sarangi.