MNREGA money down the drain

Make sure it remains an employment programme

brajesh

Brajesh Kumar | February 4, 2011



What was being said in whispers in the corridors of rural development ministry became official on January 21 when the ministry announced that more than 50 percent of works taken up under MNREGA, from the time the Act came into force five years ago, have not been completed. What this means is that year after year workers have been paid for doing temporary works like digging pits, roads, and embankments.

In fact, so worried is the ministry that it has issued a set of instructions to the states to ensure the works taken up by them are completed on time. Even the parliamentary standing committee on rural development has taken a serious view of this.

Explaining the reason behind the significant percentage of unfinished works, Shailendra Tiwari, a member of Sewa Mandir, one of the bigger NGOs working in Rajasthan, says the problem is that of mindset of the workers. “The workers have this entrenched feeling that the since the work is ‘sarkari’, even if they don’t work the money would flow in. They are happy to get as low as Rs 20 a day as it comes without any work,” he says. And he is not off the mark. But that is the reason why systemic safeguards are required.

MNREGA workers digging on the side of the road is a common sight across the country. Sarpanchs deliberately get approval for inconsequential works like expansion of roads, which actually never gets done. Panchayat officials say pucca works like cemented road and water harvesting structures are not put forward for the sanction because they are measurable, unlike earth digging, and therefore the scope for making money gets reduced. There is a cut for every official from the village to district level when kuccha works gets approved.

While the primary objective of the Act is employment guarantee to the rural poor, tangible asset creation is no less important.  However, as records show, the government is channelling huge sum of money (Rs 44,000 crore was earmarked for 2010-11) into a bottomless pit. If this trend is not checked, MNREGA will end up as the largest relief programme.

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