Subsidised rice scheme hits rural job creation in State

MGNREGA data entry operators roped in to verify ration card applications

Subsidised rice scheme hits rural job creation in State

The Congress government's Re one-a-kg rice scheme appears to have taken a toll on creation of jobs under Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA) in the State.

Ever since the announcement of the cheap rice scheme, the Food and Civil Supplies department (FCSD) has been flooded with applications seeking ration cards, especially BPL ones. To ensure thorough verification of all the applications, the department is using data entry operators (also called gram rojgar sahayaks) working at gram panchayat level under the MGNREGA for data entry and verification of the applications received. Therefore, man-day generation under the MGNREGA  has taken a hit. Against the target of 26 lakh man-day generation, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) department has been able to generate only about 3.5 lakh man-days in the last three months, official sources said.

Karnataka, which has been traditionally poor in man-day generation during first half of a year, this year decided to ramp up the job creation by adopting the Andhra Pradesh model. In the neighbouring state, services of gram rojgar sahayaks are used to generate jobs, visit work sites and maintain muster rolls. This has helped Andhra Pradesh to improve its performance considerably.

With the crucial elections to Lok Sabha fast nearing, it is important for the Congress government to effectively implement the Centre's flagship programme, which proved a game-changer for it in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Hence, on the advise of Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, the State decided to adopt the Andhra Pradesh model to implement the scheme, officials said.

The RDPR department here employs 4,500 data entry operators on contract basis. The government recently ordered that services of data entry operators can be used for verification of ration card applications. The FCSD has received more than 12 lakh applications for new ration cards in the past few weeks.

The government, burdened with the subsidised rice scheme, wants to prevent the cropping up of bogus ration cards and has hence ordered thorough verification of applications. The ongoing data entry and verification of applications is likely to go on for at least three more months, officials said.

No dearth of funds

Unlike during the previous year, there is no dearth of funds under the MGNREGA this fiscal. The RDPR department has about Rs 800 crores for the scheme. But it has not been able to spend the money.

Last year, the Centre had refused to release funds to the state alleging large-scale irregularities in implementing the scheme in the state.

However, during his recent visit to the state Jairam Ramesh said taking action against irregularities is left to the State government and, announced that Rs 700 crores would be released to Karnataka.

MGNREGA director Munish Moudgil, when contacted, refused to comment. He, however, said all necessary steps will be taken to increase man-day generation.
FSCD Secretary Ashwathnarayana Gowda said services of data entry operators are being utilised to man the department's photo bio centres. “We have received about 12 lakh applications for new ration cards. They have to be verified. Hence, this arrangement. However, steps will be taken to ensure that other department's work is not affected,” he added.

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