Rural jobs scheme floundering in Bengal, say NGOs

By Anurag Dey, IANS,

Kolkata: There were only 12 days of work per household in West Bengal under the rural jobs scheme MGNREGA as against the national average of 28 days, say NGOs who blame organisational inefficiency and faulty implementation for the situation in the state.

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The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) assures 100 days of work for one member of every rural household in a year. But West Bengal’s performance has been dismal, say NGOs, with one of them ranking the state 20th on this front.

“As per the MGNREGA government of India website, till October 2011, in the seventh month of this financial year, 25,938,375 person days had been created for 2,085,226 households, giving a dismal average of 12 days per household as against the national average of 28 days,” reads a report prepared by the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), an NGO associated with the scheme.

“This is a continuation of the trend of the past six years, where work has always been very little and much below national average and the best performing states.”

The PBKMS report says West Bengal’s best performance was in 2009-10 with 45 days of work per household while the national average was 54 days. In the report, the state in the current year is ranked the last among 20 large states. The best rank it scored was 9th in 2009-10.

“It (MGNREGA) has tremendous potential. The things required for the success of the project are political will and efficient organisational and bureaucratic structures. The Act must also make provisions for unemployment allowance and punitive measures for violations,” said Anuradha Talwar who heads PBKMS.

Another NGO connected with the project accused officials of irregularities.

“The project has become a den of scams. The books are regularly manipulated and ill maintained to show things are all right, but the real scenario is vastly different. The wages are regularly delayed, so that the officials can earn interest on that,” said Bhasker Nandy of the Grameen Majdur Union, an NGO connected with the project in Jalpaiguri.

“We have been complaining against the irregularities but to no avail. The only thing we get to hear is ‘the enquiry is on,” said Nandy.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, terming the implementation of the programme around the country as “patchy”, had earlier expressed concern at the leakage of funds meant for the scheme.

The minister has asked for a performance audit of the scheme by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in 12 states, including West Bengal.

As per the Gazette of India, the minimum wages for West Bengal for the current year (FY 2010-11) is Rs.130. The central government countrywide outlay for the scheme is Rs.40,000 crore.

Some of the problems cited by the NGOs in the state include lack of regular measurement of work and attendance records, absence of basic facilities like shades, creches, drinking water and first aid facilities and non-availability of work for the aged and disabled who are willing to work.

The state has no provision for payment of other legal entitlements such as unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages. Nor has any budget head been created from which such payments can be made by the state government, making the legal provisions in the Act ineffective, say the NGOs.

However, state Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Chandra Nath Sinha blames the monsoon for the poor implementation of MGNREGA.

“I am aware of the poor performance of the state. We have assumed office not very long ago plus the heavy rains have largely hampered the performance,” Sinha, who is a minister in the Mamata Banerjee government that came to power in May, told IANS.

“We are determined to take the state to the upper rung of the ladder and are working hard for it. Officials concerned, including decision makers, are themselves working at the grassroots and as early as December (2011) we expect the situation to improve.”

Some feel the panchayat is not the right forum to implement the scheme.

“The project has mostly suffered because of lack of systematic organisation to implement the project. The panchayats in our country do not have sufficient knowhow and awareness to implement the project efficiently. There is a need for a proper forum of implementation,” said Sukanto Sarkar of PRADAN, a NGO associated with the project.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])