Shocking figures released through a recent report by Rural Development and Panchayath Raj (RDPR) department has revealed the extent to which the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — Central labour law and social security measure to guarantee the right to work — has been misused in Karnataka.
In just one financial year (2017-18), a whopping 596 cases have been registered against officials and non-officials for violating rules and guidelines under the MGNREGA in the state. The report points out that during this year, as many as 1,97,368 works were completed and 8,42,344 works were under progress. The report says criminal cases have been registered against 85 individuals (most of them contractors and non-government officials), while 306 government staffers were suspended from service and three persons lost their jobs. Also, penalties were levied on 643 people.
A senior official under the state MGNREGA said inspections of completed or under-progress works revealed a range of violations like wage payments not done, double payments to the same person, payments are done to non-job card-holders, variations in measurement of work, poor quality material used, higher bill estimation and employing minors.
“Most of the rules and guidelines are framed by the Union government while a few of them are framed by the state government,’’ V M Mahesh, Joint Director, MGNREGA (Karnataka), said. The Union Ministry of Rural Development states that works should be executed as per the rules and guidelines, failing which complaints will be registered against officials and contractors concerned.
Karnataka has 27 ombudsman — almost one for every district. They receive complaints from job card-holders, the public or organisations. The ombudsman has basically retired officials with experience in working in the rural sector. They too conduct inspections, and if violations are found, they recommend a departmental inquiry into the case or to recover losses from the officials/contractors concerned.
In 2012, when Jagadish Shettar was Chief Minister, he had pointed out a big scam in MGNREGA and the amount exceeded Rs 600 crore, and about 10 lakh bogus job cards were detected. RDPR officials say this time it could be even more, but the precise figure will arrive at only after all the inquiries are completed.
Shettar told The New Indian Express there is much more to it than what meets the eye. “It’s a bigger scam wherein middlemen, contractors and officials are benefitting. The very purpose of the scheme is to give jobs to rural youth and others. The payment should have come from the government directly to the beneficiary’s account. But these beneficiaries are getting paid less from contractors. We have raised this issue many times in the assembly, but they could not streamline or regularise,” he said.