Monday, March 1, 2010

Corruption in NREGS not alarming

15 Feb 2010Emergence of a local mafia that siphons off funds, misuse of taxpayer's money or largescale corruption -- several anomalies have been detected during the implementation of NREGS since its launch in 2005. However, talking to Akhilesh Kumar Singh, Union minister for rural development and panchayati raj CP Joshi allayed misconceptions about the UPA government's flagship scheme, saying the NREGS had given a new dimension towards empowerment of rural India.

Q: The social audit of NREGS in Rajasthan was launched from Bhilwara, the constituency represented by you. But it was abruptly stopped. Why the brakes were imposed all of a sudden?
A:The social audit of NREGS in the state was stopped in compliance with a court order, which was based on the bylaws of the NREGA, which already has provisions for the audit of the funds involving sarpanches and officers from the local administration. Moreover, panchayat is a state subject and if states want to initiate audit through some other agency, they can do so as it had been done in Andhra Pradesh. I agree that ensuring transparency with the given norms was a little difficult as a sarpanch himself will be part of the audit team. But bringing any change can happen only through an amendment in the Act. One needs to understand the national corollary of the Act which mandates 100 days work to unemployed.
Q: Social activists, who were part of the audit team, allege that the governments (Centre and state) were not serious on checking the deep-rooted corruption in utilisation of NREGS funds. They say politicians were constrained by vote-bank politics and lacked will power?
A: I appreciate a few social activists who are doing excellent social service in Rajasthan and other parts of the country. But they need to understand the expanse of the scheme and the imminent challenges. There are 2.5 lakh panchayats in the country, where the NREGS has been implemented. Over Rs 40,000 crore is earmarked under the scheme so far. But my department has recieved complaints of irregularity in funds worth Rs 7.5 crore, which is negligible. So, the alleged corruption was not as alarming as it is being cited and it can be contained through routine exercises.
Q: NREGS has played a vital role in checking migration from villages but it has also hampered several other sectors mainly in urban areas like shortage of labourers etc. Besides, there is no quality check as there have been instances of funds not being properly utilised.
A: NREGS has a message for urban elite, the employer of the labourers in rural areas. They will have to pay the stipulated money to the labourer, otherwise NREGA ensures 100 days job in his own village. So it is for the people to increase the pay and keep the inflow of the labourer intact. The project initiative happens at the panchayat level and there are multi-tier screening committees which evaluate the viability of a project proposal. The processes involved are mainly meant to minimise any chance of manipulation.
Q: NREGS has also led to emergence of a new mafia which controls the entire funding process. Are you aware of it? If yes, what steps have been taken?
A: The so-called emergence of NREGS mafia is a new terminology coined by media a few days back. But, as I told earlier, there are several agencies involved in the entire exercise and hence "mafia" per se is not possible. Yes, there are some problems like how effective are the elected representatives. Over 66% of them are SC/STs and women. Majority of them are dependent on upper caste landlords. Women are guided by their male family members. But empowerment can't happen overnight and it will take some time. Once the elected representatives become self-dependent, most of the problems will be sorted out automatically.
Q: What modifications, you think, are required in NREGS?
A: Delayed payments are the biggest challenge. So it is the most important priority for us. Besides, NREGS will be introduced in Scheduled areas, as it could not be introduced in absence of panchayat machinery. Over 60,000 panchayats fall in Scheduled areas. For this purpose, the IT-enabled Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra is being opened in Scheduled areas through which NREGS funds will be allocated. Rs 10,000 crore has already been sanctioned and 1,000 kendras at panchayat level and 2,500 at panchayat samiti level will be set up. The entire project has been launched from Rajasthan. Convergence of various projects under NREGS is also being worked out. Water-shed projects, forestry and agriculture will also be covered.
Q: There have been allegations that VIP constituencies are the main beneficiaries of NREGS. In Rajasthan, Bhilwara is one of them, which has been allocated the maximum funds?
A: Allocations are demand-based. So there should not be any confusion in this regard. Funding to Bhilwara was high even when I was not an MP from there. So such allegations are totally baseless. There are states like UP, Punjab, Haryana from where demand is not high. So allocations are done accordingly.

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