First the rains failed them, and now government officials are holding back wages for desperate farmers of Bundelkhand who have been driven to work under the National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) for a living.
A Hindustan Times survey of the drought-hit impoverished pocket in Uttar Pradesh state found that there is no NREGS in operation in many parts of Bundelkhand.
When there is work under the scheme, payment is elusive. Sita Devi, a 45-year-old resident of Jalalpur village in Mahoba district —240 kilometres south of Lucknow —said she had not been paid for digging a well in scorching heat under the NREGS.
“They (the officials) owe me Rs 3,000 in wages. It’s been months since they promised to pay me. I’ve lost all hope now,” she said.
Many others from the Jalalpur had similar complaints.
“First the weather killed us, now the officials are doing the same,” said Basmati.
The delay in payment of wages under NREGS is a double whammy for people in Bundelkhand – a semi-arid terrain known for dacoits, droughts and deaths from starvation.
About 75 per cent of the 8.2-million people who inhabit the seven districts of Bundelkhand depend on agriculture for subsistence. A majority of them are marginal farmers. NREGS is their only hope when rain fails.
This year, the region has received just 25 per cent of the average annual rainfall of 900 mm.
194 paid twice under scheme: CAG
A report the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), tabled in UP state assembly on Monday, said that the state government had made ‘suspicious’ payments under the NREGS in 2007.
Money was given twice to 194 people having the same name and that the government failed to provide necessary manpower to implement the scheme.
The CAG report revealed that officials dedicated to the scheme were not appointed. It slowed the implementation of central schemes such as the NREGS.
One Rozgar Sewak (employment worker) had to be appointed at each of the 2,230 panchayats but almost 32 per cent of the workers had not been appointed.