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Orissa: More scams in NREGA
Sreelatha Menon & Dillip Satapathy in New Delhi | October 16, 2007 13:44 IST
Orissa, where the programme was already under a cloud after an NGO alleged false data were being entered on the state's NREGA website, is now uncovering more scams.
A team of researchers led by economist Jean Dreze and Ritika Khera, which is doing a survey focussed mainly on the corruption in the programme in Orissa, recently dug out a doctored muster roll in Badhigam gram panchayat of Boudh district.
The activists say action against a few wrongdoers will prevent a lot of harm to a programme that is as good as unmonitored.
The district collector has suspended the panchayat executive officer in the case, besides ordering a inquiry by the vigilance department.
The survey, instituted by Allahabad University, of NREGA worksites in 30 villages in three districts of Bolangir, Kalahandi and Boudh led to the finding of the fake muster roll.
Dreze and Khera say that it was doctored with fake thumb marks of fake labourers. They presented it to the District Collector Shalini Pandit on October 10 leading to a vigilance inquiry.
While Orissa's Panchayat Raj secretary R N Das said the government is yet to see this report, Shankar Kumar Raut the panchayat executive officer (PEO) involved in the case is under suspension
The Collector visited Badhigam on October 11. "In spite of evident attempts to "doctor" the testimonies of the labourers, further evidence emerged that the muster roll was fake. Clinching evidence came from bank statements, showing that the money had been withdrawn on September 26, 2007, while payments had been made in July according to the muster roll,'' say the researchers.
Later the same day, the embezzled money (Rs 10,480) was recovered by the District Collector from the PEO. The money was returned in cash in her office, in the presence of the survey coordinators. The PEO was suspended the next day.
"Job cards" that are meant to enable labourers to verify the details of their wage payments are virtually useless, as the design of the card does not provide any space for recording these payments; the administration has allowed extensive "adjustments" in the muster rolls to accommodate workers who do not have a job card, opening the door to further "adjustments" that serve different purposes. Last but not least, private contractors (who are banned under the Act) are still in control of the works in many areas, say the researchers.
Each work site is supposed to have a vigilance and monitoring committee comprising villagers. But these were ineffective in the places visited, says Khera.
Vigilance committees at worksites are mandated by the NREGA Act to prevent corruption. A study by NGO PRIA recently found that such committees were found in 30 to 50 per cent of villages in orissa.
"The best way forward is strict implementation of the safeguards under the Act, starting with re-design of the Orissa job card and distribution of new, reader-friendly job cards. Also separation of payment agencies from implementation agencies, eg through bank payments (where feasible), would be a major protection against corruption. In areas where transparency safeguards are implemented (eg Rajasthan) we have found much lower levels of corruption," Dreze told Business Standard.