All play no work

Ever since the MGNREGA began, several irregularities had been reported with regard to implementation of the controversial rural employment guarantee scheme like local elected officials siphoning off funds often with the knowledge of the job card holders themselves.

When the Right Honourable Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Thongam Biswajit Singh turned up at Konthoujam Gram Panchayat one fine morning to cross-check reports in social media of certain irregularities in the implementation of MGNREGA, many asked where was he all this time. Ever since the MGNREGA began, several irregularities had been reported with regard to implementation of the controversial rural employment guarantee scheme like local elected officials siphoning off funds often with the knowledge of the job card holders themselves. Even the works taken up are very little as compared to the funds being poured in. The immediate result was the death of work culture among the rural people and breeding of corruption at the grassroots level.

Even agricultural activities had to suffer, for want of day workers who preferred the easy way of earning in MGNREGA work instead of toiling hard in the fields. Also, the labour rates sky-rocketed.

Need we say more? It is common knowledge that there is rampant corruption at the village level and big money always prevails at the Zilla Parishad and Gram Panchayat elections. Surely it would be an untruth if one denies any knowledge of such happenings on the ground.

The Minister had made the surprise visit at Konthoujam acting on a video posted in the Facebook. In the video, a woman from Konthoujam Makha Leikai Ward No 5 claimed that she has to work alone for four days. During the on-the-spot enquiry, the woman had apprised the Minister that the Ward Member had informed them meaning the job card holders, payments will be made for only 16 days only when the allotted days are 20 since the area is a containment zone. She didn’t agree with it and told the Member that she would work 20 days since her family has no other means of earning due to the present lockdown. Officials on the ground corroborated the woman’s statement with documents and found that all other job-carders holders had given their signature to an agreement with the Member to work for only 16 out of the 20 days. However, the woman alone had decided to work for the allotted 20 days. As an encouragement for her sincerity and hard work, the Minister awarded the woman an additional payment for 50 days work. We do not know, whether there is a provision for such an award. But anyway, it turned out to be a perfect photo op for the Minister in action.

Of course, action followed after a week as promised by the Minister. While a show cause notice has been served on the concerned Pradhan and Member for flouting the MGNREGS guidelines, one Gram Rozgar Sahayak (GRS) was suspended for not monitoring MGNREGS works properly. This would be a lesson to other erring Pradhans and members besides the GRSs. But, what is required now is an effective monitoring system. A question, as to who is going to monitor the monitors, always crops up in such situations of collective fraud. Even the embedded system of check and balance like Social Audit does not seem to be working at all. So, instead of knee-jerk reactions to events a system overhaul has become the need of the hour.

_Editorial

First Published:Sept. 9, 2020, 7:50 a.m.