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Work became a Constitutional right of every citizen in rural India the day Parliament passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2005.
It is six months since the Centre began implementing the programme in partnership with state governments in 200 of the 600 districts in the country.
Amid warnings about the limited efficacy of what could turn out to be a glorified dole, the government, nevertheless, committed itself to allocating what has been the largest budget for state-supported job creation - Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) annually - in the history of independent India, in recognition of the fact that the state had an obligation to provide work to its poor.
Business Standard visited three states to do a reality check on ground zero - at work sites of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme.
The places visited were the Mahendragarh district in Haryana, Udaipur and Dungarpur in Rajasthan, and Sitapur and Chitrakoot districts in Uttar Pradesh.
The findings cause apprehension, but also hope. Corruption and neglect dog the programme in its implementation. Instances of corruption are most evident at places where the programme has actually flowered and evolved - in Rajasthan.
The muster roll, which is the most important part of the programme, and has proof of attendance and payment, is being violated, with fake and false entries being reported aplenty.
While Haryana seems to have had a problem starting off, official neglect is strangling the scheme in Uttar Pradesh.
The migration of farmers following a three-year drought has turned Bundelkhand into a deserted wasteland, and the chief minister has been seeking a Vidarbha-like package for the poor farmers.
However NREGP, which could have stopped at least the migration of women and children, and ensured unbroken schooling, is being cut to size here.
In Chitrakoot district bordering Madhya Pradesh, a scene of daily migrations, just 27,000 job cards had been issued by June-end, though the population living below the poverty line numbered 70,000.
In several states, the mandated minimum wage is being denied to those who have got work. Sharp accounting practices are in evidence.
Everywhere, women who want to work are being denied employment on the ground that they cannot bring their children to the work site.
At some places, men and women are desperate for work - but the lower bureaucracy wants a commission to sanction work. At still other places, the people are badly in need of work, but too proud to work at the same site as lower castes.
Says Aruna Roy, whose Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan spearheaded a social audit on the scheme in the district of Dungarpur in June, leading to a wave of awareness among the people: "Corruption is eating into the scheme, but we have to guard against this. The solution is given in the Act itself, which asks for constant civil vigilance and social audit."This is the first of a seven-part series Powered by
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