‘Guaranteed’ work but uncertain labour, wages

In Noorserai’s Chandasi panchayat, outsiders brought on contract to work under MNREGS, allege locals; mukhiya pooh-poohs claim; official says people prefer contract work for better pay

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | January 8, 2013


Showing the job card, voicing anguish on the lack of passbooks to withdraw money from bank against MNREGS work
Showing the job card, voicing anguish on the lack of passbooks to withdraw money from bank against MNREGS work

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

That’s quoted straight off the website of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREG) Act.

In Chandasi panchayat of Nalanda district’s Noorserai block, though, the MNREG scheme website and its mission statement could well be from another planet. Here, people working under MNREGS are not residents of Chandasi panchayat but outsiders brought on contract.

And why is that? Locals allege that the mukhiya, purportedly hand in glove with some officials, brings workers from outside, engages them in work under the central government scheme and then withdraws money from the post-office using passbooks of the genuine job card holders to pay the outsiders.
It’s a scam, they allege. It’s rubbish of an allegation, the mukhiya, Biranchi Yadav, shoots back.

For the record, Noorserai block has 17 panchayats, Chandasi being one of them and comprising five villages. Most people here have their job cards but do not possess the passbooks, meant to withdraw money against MNREGS work.

"Our passbook is with the village mukhiya (Biranchi Yadav). He withdraws money in the name of labourers in collusion with some post-office staff. That money is then distributed among workers brought (from outside) for MNREGS work,” said Deepak Paswan, a Chandasi resident who has taken his complaint against the mukhiya to the project officer for MNREGS at Noorserai block.

Ramlagan and Manoj Paswan have similar complaints of irregularities against mukhiya Biranchi Yadav — but while Deepak talks about not getting work under MNREGS, Ramlagan and Manoj said they are yet to get their due wages.
A senior citizen, Ramlagan Paswan said he works as a “van poshak” in Chandasi village and has two units of plants (each unit comprises 200 plants) to look after. “I have got only Rs 4,200 over the last five months. I have a job card but I don't have my passbook. The mukhiya has cheated me by not giving me my due share,” he alleged.

As per norms, Ramlagan ought to get Rs 144 per day.

Fellow ‘van poshak’ Manoj Paswan said he, too, has not been paid properly. The two have thus decided to take their complaint to the block project officer.
"But mine is not an exceptional case,” Manoj added immediately. “There are several others whose passbook lies with the mukhiya.”
But dismissing the allegations, mukhiya Biranchi Yadav told Governance Now over telephone: "My opponents are levelling false allegations against me. I don't have the passbook of any labourer.”

Work exists, but ‘not for us’
Several other labourers in Chandasi said though they have job cards but do not possess their passbook — and have not got any work under MNREGS for even a single day in the last several months.

"I haven't even seen the passbook and, needless to say, haven’t got any work either. But I know all money is withdrawn by the mukhiya from my account,” alleged Deepak Paswan, who has cleared Intermediate and seemed aware of the government’s employment guarantee scheme.
According to Deepak, he has written an application along with Ramlagan, Manoj and a few others and sent it to the block-level project officer.
According to the application — Governance Now possesses a copy of it — most work shown as ‘done’ in Chandasi panchayat is “false”, and whatever work is actually done is not given out to labourers living in areas under the panchayat’s jurisdiction.

"Workers are called from outside and money is withdrawn in the name of local labourers,” alleged Mahendra Rajak of Chandasi panchayat.
According to locals, people from five villages under Chandasi panchayat have, between them, nearly 300 with job cards but most of them have not been handed over their passbooks. “We do not get work under MNREGS. We have often gone to mukhiya Biranchi Yadav to seek work but in vain,” said Krishna Ravidas of Jolahpura village.

Another Jolahpura resident, Karu Ravidas, alleged that when he approached the mukhiya for their passbook “he ticked us off and threatened to delete my name from the BPL (below poverty line) list”.

Several other villagers from Jolahpura — Pramod Ravidas, Savitri Devi, Chandrashekhar Ravidas and Jitendra Raj, among others — also said they possess yellow cards (meant for people above poverty line, or APL) but do not get work under MNREGS.

Left with no choice, most of them venture outside their villages to seek work, Dharam Sheela Devi of Jolahpura said. "We know all government schemes exist to help only the powerful, and those with the right connections. “So we avoid making formal complaints,” she said, adding that though she is “totally landless” she has not been given a house under Indira Awaas Yojana either.

"In fact, the dalit community was further divided to create a mahadalit society to help them. We are the mahadalits and are the most neglected community in these villages,” said Umesh Ravidas, a physically challenged person.
 
So who is at fault?
While Governance Now came across more than 50 people in Chandasi and Jolahpura village in the panchayat who do not possess their own passbooks, mukhiya Biranchi Yadav's son Aman Kumar, who took over the phone when the mukhiya was audibly alarmed, blamed the political opponents of his farther for starting this “rumour campaign”.

“Some people are doing this deliberately to put up hurdles in way of my father’s good works. But they will not succeed,” Aman Kumar reiterated.
Asked how the officials deal with complaints of villagers, Noorseari block MNREGS project officer Sudhanshu Shekher Pande said: “We take each complaint seriously but on most occasions we find complainants approach us with a malicious approach to settle scores with the mukhiya. Most labourers do not want to work (under MNREGS) because they get only Rs 144 per day. Instead, they prefer to work in another panchayat on contract, where they get more in way of daily wage.”

So, even if the accusations and counter-allegations are kept aside, what the project officer is inadvertently admitting is that work is done under MNREGS in Noorserai villages are given to outsiders on contract, in many cases if not all, and the legitimate labourers listed with the panchayat are ignored.

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