A lost opportunity

A lost opportunity

Case Studies: Karnataka

After five years, although their hopes have not been fully belied, the teething troubles  continue to haunt the implementation of the historic Act. And it is  a missed opportunity for the district, which has failed to capitalise and create eternal assets.

To put in a simple statistical form, an amount of Rs 541.81 crore had been released and out of that Rs 391.4 crore has been spent on 32,500 works creating a whopping 298.86 lakh persondays. But, to find real assets created is a struggle as the success stories are very few.

MGNREGA arouses mixed feelings, thanks to gross misutilisation and inept handling of the voluminous exercise by the incompetent administration. The staff,  particularly in gram panchayats, who are more or less computer illiterates did not have an iota of orientation.

By giving them a free hand and due to lack of supervision by higher-ups, all sorts of irregularities have been committed by the unscrupulous nexus of elected representatives, panchayat secretaries, junior engineers and greedy middlemen. This has been reflected in the unprecedented irregularities during  2009-10 resulting in non-payment of wages to the tune of Rs 106 crore.

The Monitoring Information System (MIS) introduced in 2009-10 played havoc as no official  was given any kind of training. There was an unprecedented increase in the number of works in that particular year with total expenditure reaching a mind-boggling Rs 285 crore. In the preceding four years the expenditure had not crossed Rs 45 crore in a single year. The year was a free for all with generation of hundreds of  thousands of fake nominal muster rolls (NMR). “There are instances of even a new born baby getting benefit,” remarked a senior official.

The instructions were clear. Only those works which had been fed in the MIS would get payment. However, hundreds of works could not be fed in the system even though the last date was extended. And the government did not release funds for works involving wages to the tune of Rs 106 crore.

The MGNREGA nevertheless has come in handy in creation of at least some permanent assets  in the areas of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, rain water harvesting, construction of tanks and lakes. “In Mashal Circle of Afzalpur taluk, the underground water table has improved,” says Revanasiddhappa, a farmer. A number of schools have seen compound walls and large number of farm lands have got approach roads.

According to a conservative estimation of an officer involved in the implementation of the works, the success and failure ratio of MGNREGA in the district is 60:40. After the introduction of foolproof MIS and advent of new Panchayat Development Officers (PDOs), things are being set in order.

All Karnataka picture

In the year 2010-11, about eight lakh works were commissioned across Karnataka and Rs 2,554 crore dispersed. About 28 lakh person-days of employment were created. “By all accounts, it is going very well,” says Director of MGNREGA, P Shivashankar
Yet, problems persist. For example 80 per cent of the amount sanctioned is allocated for materials, while the labour component forms 20 per cent. But several of the works require skilled labour and the expense for this also comes under material component. “This eats into the budget for  materials and may affect quality,” said a source in the Department of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj.

Another major problem is the use of machines. “Machines take about an hour to finish what 10 people would take to do in a day. But the amount is still paid to the accounts of labourers and they get a cut while the majority goes to the contractor,” the source said.
The Department is developing educative programmes to build awareness in the rural areas.  In addition, 180 officers have been suspended and 85 criminal cases have been filed.

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