As the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme evolves into its crucial third year, one in which the money is proposed to be raised 40 per cent, the corruption around it is evolving too.
When a HT team reached Ponwaya, a village in Hardoi district adjacent to Lucknow, it found a flagrant array of lapses. The rules of the NREG Act being flouted were the ones designed to make the scheme work directly for the poorest, without any intermediation.
Consider this. All the job cards, which should be with the villagers and is the document they need to demand work and money, were kept with the pradhan. Many of the 150-odd workers at the pond-digging site said they dare not ask for the cards because the pradhan would be furious.
Sandeep Pandey of Asha Parivar, an organisation that has conducted social audits of the scheme in Hardoi and has the experience of audits in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, says it’s not uncommon for pradhans to show 100 days’ work and take the money from the government, while they pay for a lesser number of days. “So though you may see a number of people getting Rs 100 for a unit of work, they are not given the money for all the 100 days,” says Pandey.
HT has in its possession copies of blank muster rolls from neighbouring Unnao district — copies submitted at the BDO against which money had been disbursed.
Golu, a middle-aged worker with a broken and bandaged left arm, claimed he hadn’t seen 100 days’ work though the pond he was digging was almost complete. That was possible because another rule — one that forbids use of any machine to ensure work for the unskilled — was being flouted.
There were three tractors at work, dumping loose earth at a field nearby. When asked how many man-days of work was being lost because of the machines, Neeraj Singh, the head meth (supervisor) refused to hazard a guess. When asked how the tractor-wallas were being paid, conflicting theories were offered — they were being paid with two loads of earth a day; the person whose fallow land was being filled was footing the bill.
When a team led by district magistrate Sameer Verma and chief development officer Anand Kumar Singh went to the village a few days later to enquire about the HT complaint, they were given a third reason — the loose soil was going to the building site of a mandir in a nearby village. Verma later asked HT: “How can you disbelieve when a group of villagers are claiming it?”
Here’s how. When speaking to us, the villagers kept their voices low because about a dozen meths were roaming around. This was a violation of another rule — that there should be only one meth for every 100 workers. One of them said: “If we even raise our voice, we would be bound up and beaten.”
The meths kept a kachcha attendance register, not the muster roll that is required by law. When we asked for the rolls, they said it’s at the pradhan’s, where it shouldn’t be when work is on.
When, after such breathtaking display of subversion, we were making our way out of the site, pradhanpati Ashutosh Singh came riding his bike and greeted us. He explained that he did not know about the no-machine rule. Could we meet the pradhan, Abhilasha Singh? “Oh, she stays mostly in Lucknow… You see she has to take care of our two kids.”