The Uttar Pradesh administration has unearthed largescale fraud in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), with touts as well as bank and government officials conniving to pocket the money under it.
Chief Minister Mayawati has ordered punitive action against 14 government officials who were found to have committed irregularities in implementing the scheme in Sitapur district, about 85 km from Lucknow.
The administration has found that the daily wage of Rs.100 guaranteed under the scheme was being stealthily transferred in the bank accounts of touts, who shared the booty with bank and government officials.
Last week's exposure of pilferage of NREGS funds in Sitapur district has opened a pandora's box that could lead the officials to a racket with larger ramifications.
Mayawati had been dismissing Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's criticism that the scheme was not being implemented properly in the state as a "wild and baseless accusation". But she is now livid about the whole affair.
The state's rural development commissioner Manoj Kumar Singh, who detected how wages under the scheme were being transferred into fictitious bank accounts run by touts, plans to go for a random spot verification of accounts across the state over the coming months.
"What I discovered in Sitapur was that wages were being transferred into the accounts of people who had nothing to do with actual employment on ground. Yet, wages were transferred into their bank accounts in the local Land Development Bank with rural development department officials duly certifying the identity of the account holders," he told IANS.
The commissioner has got criminal cases registered against 14 officials, including manager of the local branch of Land Development Bank.
"I do not rule out the possibility of a similar racket thriving in several other parts of the state as well," Singh said.
Suspecting that the chances of such fraud were more in places where accounts were opened in cooperative sector banks, Singh has sought details of each and every account across the state's 70 districts.
"We are also inquiring into why the accounts of beneficiary labourers were not opened in public sector banks for which there was a clear cut government order," he added.