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Cloud over MNREGA

A cursory glance at the recent news reports on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) in the district of Dehradun shows that all is not well with the ambitious wage employment guarantee programme. The programme that was devised to help control distress migration and provide livelihood to BPL families in select rural areas has incurred expenditure worth crores of rupees, but the Block Development Officers (BDOs) concerned in the district do not have any record of these expenses.
This leads us to two things. One – that the works were faithfully executed and the programme went on as per the schedule to achieve the set target, but the financial records were not updated. Second – that there has been gross mismanagement in the implementation of the scheme possibly leading to attempts by officials to cover up for their negligence. Under the circumstances, it appears more plausible that the officials have indeed botched up the scheme which is also amply reflected in their action of not revealing the expense account details in time.
In Dehradun, the initial progress of the scheme was at best tardy. Not even four thousand villagers could get employment during the initial sixteen months. In fact, this is the same district where even after preparation and distribution of about 18 thousand job-cards in eleven gram panchayats, just about two percent of these could get employment. This is also the district, where in the initial stages, no employment could be provided to even a single person in as many as 41 Gram Panchayats under the scheme. What is even more shocking are reports in the media regarding several on–going schemes in the Gram Panchayats in which the muster–rolls of works have not been properly maintained.
It is often said that the Banyan tree looks massive and strong from the outside, ‘the root is not visible so only God knows about it’, and the trunk is hollow from within. A situation something like this exists in the district where due to various acts of omission and commission by ‘responsible’ people, the roots of MNREGA have become totally hollow. The situation continues to prevail while officials feign an exceedingly serious attitude regarding the scheme. The BDOs are ‘strictly’ told that no negligence of any kind would be tolerated at any cost. They are also given instructions to visit villages to mobilize and encourage villagers to work under the MNREGA scheme. But the results are not visible on the ground.
MNREGA is undoubtedly the most important productive employment programme in independent India and the largest in the world. The outlays on the programme are enormous, but its implementation has come under public scrutiny and has brought to light several shortcomings. The hiding of expense accounts by BDOs is one such shortcoming that needs to be seriously looked into. This should be taken note of by the authorities as a blatant attempt to sweep the dirt under the carpet. It is time grassroot activists and the beneficiaries together carried out an intensive social audit to correct the deficiencies to make MNREGA a genuine instrument for emancipating the rural poor.