BENGALURU: While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is being touted as the ‘magic bullet’ for unemployment in rural areas, especially in the light of the migrant crisis, scores of workers enrolled under the scheme are discovering that they have been dealt a body blow by unscrupulous elements.
A TNIE investigation has revealed that funds disbursed for the job scheme are being siphoned off in a well-organised manner across many districts in the state. Take the case of Shivaraj Naik (name changed).
He walked around 500 km over 15 days from Mumbai to reach his village Bolani in Kalaburgi district. It was a hard journey, with hours spent looking for running taps and in long queues for food handouts. His slippers are now held together with a string.
All through this ordeal, he hung on to the hope of finding work under MGNREGS. Two days after reaching his village, he went to the panchayat office and found that he had been literally robbed. His family’s job card had been taken and used by someone else, and for almost a year, his father got a meagre Rs 100 against his thumbprint.
There are many instances where labourers going back to their villages are realising that their MGNREGS work has been snatched from their hands. "This is happening across the state," informed social activist Swarna Bhat.
Workers unaware of daily wages due to them
"The State Government may be showing several new enrolments, but we have come across lakhs of people who don’t even know that there is something called a 'job card' and that they are entitled to certain number of days of work and wages," rued social activist Swarna Bhat, who has worked extensively for the rights of such people from villages.
To plug leakages, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Ministry shifted to an electronic muster roll of beneficiaries and pushed for Aadhaar-linked payment system. But several Panchayat Development Officers (PDO), who are hand in glove with gram panchayat members and contractors, seem to have found other ways to cheat thousands of workers of the benefits.
For instance, when TNIE spoke to villagers and social activist groups working in this area, it came to light that in some villages like Salagara, Bolani, Kanagi, Sarasamba and Tadakal in Aland taluk, village leaders get the job cards done for hundreds of households with valid documents and even open bank accounts for them. But the cards are kept in their possession and not given to the beneficiaries.
"When there is work, they call about 100-200 people and allot jobs like lake desilting, tank building, etc. They take photographs, and generate a site report which mandatorily has to be tagged to the Global Physical System (GPS)," explained Gururaj Patil, a district-level worker of the Grameena Kooli Karmikara Sanghatane.
The workers are sent back after two days and 15 days later, officials from the bank go along with the panchayat officers and get the thumb prints of these workers. Three days' wages is paid to them for the two days of work. "While the labourers are happy that they got an extra day’s money, little do they realise that the money for the remainder of the days is siphoned off," Gururaj added.
The people of these villages are not even aware that they are entitled to Rs 275 per person as wages for the day’s work. In some cases, they don’t even know that job cards exist. Speaking about this Vinutha H V, a social actvist in HD Kote taluk says, "I have done a survey of all 39 gram panchayats in the taluk and found that many villagers don’t know of the job cards. Some of them are getting only about Rs 75 per day as wages."
The villages of Adnuru, Nooralaguppe, Hannuru, Bhimanahalli, Alanalli, Kyatanahalli, Metkuppe are some examples. In Padukote of Mysuru district, the villagers say they have been pleading with the local leaders for job cards but are not getting it.
"We have been asking for the cards, but we are sent back saying that the server is down or that our number is blocked," said a resident.
It’s no different in Kolar district.
"Since it’s convenient to show that the work needs the use of machines, and contractors bring in labourers in large numbers, they manage to make money from both," explained V Geetha, state vice-president, Akhila Bharathiya Janawadi Mahila Sanghatane which is working with women in villages across the district.
When asked about the siphoning of funds, MNREGS Commissioner Anirudh Shravan dismissed the allegations and said, "Around 10 lakh people have been given work and about one lakh new job cards added since April 1. We’ve displayed all job cards in all Gram Panchayats, so there is no question of any kind of mismanagement."
On the positive side, TNIE also found that some of the villages in Kalaburgi, Hubballi and Ballari districts have seen good work and many workers are now thinking of staying back in their hometowns and not go back to Maharashtra or Rajasthan for work.
Agreeing with this, Bagalkot ZP CEO, Gangubai Mankar said, "We have provided employment to many of them and have generated 1.90 lakh cards including those who are in institutional quarantine. Around 15,000 people per day across the district are getting work."