While Karnataka is banking heavily on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to mitigate the effects of drought, a social audit into the scheme has flagged irregularities amounting to Rs 410 crore this year.
Irregularities include payments for work not done, payments exceeding quantum of work, erroneous job cards, payments exceeding the bill amount and double payments. The audit that looked into NREGA in 467 gram panchayats across the state has confirmed leakage worth Rs 37.68 crore. Another Rs 373 crore has been put on hold due to audit objections. In all, over 92,000 cases of irregularities have been flagged.
The highest number of irregularities have been unearthed in Ramanagaram district, where Channapatna and Kanakapura taluks have been declared drought-hit. Channapatna is represented by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and Kanakapura by Water Resources Minister D K Shivakumar.
Under NREGA, unskilled labourers are provided employment for 100 days in a year with a pay of Rs 236 per day. They are engaged in the creation of various rural assets, such as school compounds, trenches, farm ponds and so on. To prevent migration during drought, the government has increased employment days to 150.
The social audit has suggested a recovery of Rs 37.68 crore in cases where leakage was confirmed. The panchayat development officers (PDO) or junior engineers who certified the works have to pay up. In fact, over the past five years, auditors have suggested recovery of irregular payments worth Rs 113 crore.
Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister Krishna Byre Gowda told DH that all works taken up under NREGA have to be geo-tagged and photographs uploaded to verify that the work was actually done. “But when you’re doing such a large and diverse programme where millions of works are going on, there may be a few (leaks) here and there,” he said. “While we don’t want leaks or misuse, we also don’t want to stifle the system.”
Apparently, PDOs have complained that the social audit process is unfair, in that it is one-sided. The government is working on addressing such concerns on the social audit, RDPR principal secretary L K Atheeq said. “But we have to pursue and punish those involved in cases where payment was done without any work and those where payment was made for less work,” he said.