Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NREGS: The truth is in the lies-Times of India

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NREGS: The truth is in the lies

PANDHARKAWDA (Yavatmal district): As we prepared to turn back to Nagpur after visiting three villages in this suicide capital of Maharashtra, an agitated voice on the phone of our host prompted us to give it a hearing. A former sarpanch, the voice is now an NCP activist. He was well informed about various government schemes meant for the poor. He had a telling comment to make.

"If the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is implemented the right way, there will be no need for MP and MLAs funds," he said with complete conviction.

Look at the figures: At Rs 2 crore per 543 MP, the allocation comes to Rs 1086 crore (most times this remains underutilized). In his budget, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has increased the NREGA allocation by 144% and it's now Rs 39,100 crore.

Had all the money been put to use, there would perhaps been no rickety roads in India. Not every road can be a Mumbai-Pune Expressway but certainly it would have connected many remote and inaccessible villages and brought them on the national motor map. Hidden somewhere between the humongous figures are some lies and half-truths about the UPA's flagship scheme that was meant to provide employment and minimum wage of Rs 100 per day for at least 100 days in a year.

We deliberately chose villages around Pandharkawda. At the height of the agrarian crisis last year, this district created maximum farmer widows. Jalka, where Rahul Gandhi's Kalavati stays, and Sonkhas, where Shashikala resides, is just round the corner. We also deliberately chose not to visit these two villages.

At Mandoli, we encountered Bhimrao Atram creating an embankment to prevent water from gushing into the agricultural fields. The village, largely comprising the Kollam tribe, is Atram's sasural. No, he hasn't heard of the complicated acronym N-R-E-G-S. He is content earning between Rs 65 and Rs 90 per day from the farm owners. He manages to keep his family of four (wife and three children) sufficiently well fed.

However, his neighbours have. Some have paid Rs 100 to get the brochure-looking impeccably maintained registration book which allows you to fill in many details but is strangely blank. The truth: "Who do I approach for the job?" "What kind of jobs are available?" "Are jobs available at all?" "No, I didn't try asking for any job." "There was no publicity about the scheme." From blatant ignorance to utter disregard.

Next stop Wanzari, a little beyond Mandoli. Only a few elders are present as most are working as farmhands. A village elder informs that village and government officials had publicised the scheme. "Many enrolled but only a few sought work when they came to know that largely it involved breaking down stones. Youngsters, though illiterate, want to have fun and not perform hard labour," he said. "Moreover, work under the scheme should be undertaken when we are not working in the farms. If we have work in the farms who will go seeking other work?"

A lady interrupted saying she had actually got work under the scheme. She worked exactly for a day and is still awaiting payment for it.

"Most government officials do not give publicity to the scheme as they want to show that labour is not easily available," said Kishor Tiwari, convenor of the NGO, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which is working for the cause of the farmers. "By doing so they are able to complete projects hiring machines which are owned by politicians and are lying around in large numbers."

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