The only solution to NREGA- corruption in Jharkhand

The only solution to NREGA- corruption in Jharkhand
Remove the BDO office which is blocking development and link the village
Gram Sabha directly to District administration

Stan Swamy

Prof Jean Dreze, member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, refers to Jharkhand State as “ one of the worst performing states as far as NREGA is concerned” in the country [The Hindu, 19 July 2008]. There are two main reasons for this: (1) massive corruption built into the system; (2) people’s ignorance of their rights. The two go together.

The NREGA, a scheme meant to provide relief to households suffering chronic unemployment, has become another site for harassment. In the country as a whole, around ten lakh rural BPL households paid bribes to avail of NREGA benefits, to the tune of Rs 7.15 crores in the course of one year! Around 47% of rural BPL households that interacted with the NREGA found officials/staff corrupt. Half the households that paid bribes did so to get registered for work under the scheme [Centre for Media Studies (CMS) & Transparency International India (TII) in India Corruption Study-2007]

In Jharkhand the situation is still worse. The factors affecting NREGA in Jharkhand are:
1)a repressive state machinery which looks upon any one raising any question about the implementation of NREGA with suspicion. It is so easy to dub such individuals and organisations as either being Naxalites or associated with them. Once the tag of Naxalism / Maoism is put on a person, anything can be done to him. He can be summoned to the police station and harassed, or he can be arrested for a few days without any charges, or he can be beaten up badly and released, or he can be arrested and produced before the magistrate and charged as being a Maoist or having links with militants. Unfortunately the govt and the police do not realize that this type of repression will itself provoke young men and women to join the extremist forces. Thus there will be a strengthening of militants and their organisations in Jharkhand.
2)Helplessness of working people: 80% of Jharkhandi people live in rural areas where poverty is deepening. Studies show that 60 – 70% of rural population is below Poverty Line. In some districts of Jharkhand the literacy rate among rural women is as low as 18 % and 24%. When they cannot even read their Job Card and do not know where their names are written on the register, and saddest of all, they cannot sign their name on the muster roll but can only put their thumb impression, what accountability or transparency can be expected in the functioning of NREGA? The sad part of it is that the capitalist ruling class and the govt want to keep the majority of people in this situation of helplessness.
3)Lack of system to redress grievances: if day-to-day checking of NREGA functioning is to be done it is best done by the local Gram Sabvha. But the govt is reluctant to give this power to the gram sabha. Instead it appoints high-level retired bureaucrats and college professors to check on the functioning of NREGA projects. By the time these big people reach a particular NREGA project, all the rats run into their holes! Recently a govt announcement in newspapers giving a Delhi-phone number for people to report about any wrongs in NREGA provokes laughter! One phone number for the whole country, and that too in Delhi. How many NREGA - workers would have access to an STD phone, and even if they phone, what reply or remedy they are likely to get?
4)Absence of Gram Panchayats: It is a known fact that Jharkhand has not had Panchayat election for well over 25 years. Sadly even the present govt does not seem serious in holding it. The higher judiciary which ruled against some of the provisions of PESA Act does not seem to be in any way concerned about giving its final judgement on the matter. However, the State Govt can at least conduct panchayat election in the non-scheduled areas. But there is no will power to do it. Consequently thousands of crores of rupees of the central govt to be channelled through gram panchayats and gram sabhas is not being sent to Jharkhand. A very big loss to the Adivasi people of Jharkhand indeed. Another factor to take note of is the fact that in most of Scheduled Areas there is in existence the age-old traditional Munda-Manki system which is very functional. The NREGA schemes can very well be channelled through these bodies. Again, the govt seems unconcerned.
5)Casual attitude of government towards the implementation of NREGA is most regrettable. Prof Jean Dreze, member of Central Employment Council, during his recent visit to Ranchi called the state govt’s attitude towards NREGA as “lip service”. He further stated that various social audits across the state have proved that the government officials, politicians and contractors were taking profit of the NREGA projects. In several places, the works are being carried out by contactors, which is illegal under the act.

How else to clean the stable? . . . only possible through local People’s Organisations.
It is my belief that only those who are presently victims of corruption will be able to correct it. And the corrective mechanisms should be on the spot and have a stable presence. Sporadic officious visits of retired high level govt appointees cannot do it. Let us name a few such people’s mechanisms:
1)People’s Organisations: People have instruments like Gram Sabha at the village level, Panchayat at inter-village level, Parishad at block and district level. It is already laid down in The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA for short) that all projects should be placed before the gram sabha for approval, the choice of the beneficiaries, implementation of the schemes. The NREGA programme should be placed before these people’s institutions at the grassroot level and they should be asked to take charge of the entire programme. It should be a collective responsibility of the whole gram sabha / panchayat / parishad.
2)In Scheduled Areas, the traditional Adivasi social organisation & leadership should be recognised as the implementing agency. This is a system that is based on collective leadership and consensus decision making process. Therefore it is ideally suited in identifying the real needs of the local community and implement the schemes through community-participation. Also because of the collective and community process, there is less space for corruption and more space for transparency.
3)The Block Development Office and the BDO should be kept out of the picture completely. Historically the BDO (office and officer) have come to be known for incompetence, inefficiency and corruption. Their functioning has been like the feudal zamindar lording over people. They have been blocking rather than aiding rural development.
4)Human & Civil Rights Organisations with clear secular credentials should be authorized as checking agencies. In the recent years these organisations have highlighted crucial areas and issues relating to the rights of the marginalised sections of society which the ruling class and the govt failed to do any thing about. There is genuine commitment and no vested interests on their part. The govt must make sure that their recommendations are taken seriously and acted upon.
5)A few carefully selected print & electronic media can be empowered to highlight discrepancies in the functioning of NREGA. Most national newspapers have sold themselves to the corporate houses. Only a few local and regional media can be trusted with the poor people’s cause. These media persons can be asked to investigate specific problematic situations and highlight them in their write ups and presentations.