Thursday, 5 July, 2007

Rs 6,500 cr for poor unspent

Half of the Rs 13,000 crores given to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGA) to provide jobs for the rural poor during 2005-06 has been allowed to lapse.

NGOs allege that while the village panchayats spent most of their financial allocation under this scheme, government departments showed "criminal negligence" by failing to utilise their share of the funds.

The ministry of rural development routes this money to its counterparts in the states, which in turn were, as per the act, dividing the budgetary allocation between the panchayats and different government departments with the district collector serving as the programme coordinator.

This is just one of the many details highlighted by the "Citizen's Report on Governance and Development 2007" collated by the National Social Watch Coalition (NSWC), which comprises civil society organisations from 14 states.

The NREGA is being currently implemented in 200 backward districts across the country by 1.75 lakh panchayats across 28 states. In the present financial year it will spread to 400 backward districts. Manoj Rai, national coordinator of PRIA, a member of NSWC, pointed out that 30 to 40 families were expected to benefit from this scheme in every village across these 400 districts.

The response to the programme, however, varies from state to state. The registration percentages of "eligible" households was as little as 14 per cent in Madhubani district of Bihar, but close to 100 per cent in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh.

In a recent study to evaluate the impact of NREGA in 24 districts in 16 states, covering 5,600 randomly selected households, PRIA found that the scheme left a great deal to be desired since neither "functionaries nor finance were being devolved in an effective manner". It was also found that close to 80 per cent of the households were not aware of how the scheme worked on the ground.

Dr Yogesh Kumar, executive director of the Bhopal-based Samarthan Centre for Development Support, pointed out that the act provides 100 days' compulsory employment to anyone who possesses a job card. "And if the individual is not given employment, he can apply to the panchayat or government department for unemployment dole," said Mr Kumar.

"Since this money for the dole has to come out of the state, and not the Central exchequer, district level officials and panchayats refuse to accept any applications for dole. Instead, they will periodically announce a programme to start tree plantation or de-silting of water tanks and the entire district will have to subscribe to it, thereby diluting the whole spirit of this act," he said.

The panchayats are handicapped because they can only announce a scheme when they receive the funds. But whereas they are determined to provide employment at the village level, this is not the case with their government counterparts.
Applications under the Right to Information Act are being increasingly used on the ground to get information on the NREGA. Over 500 RTIs have been filed across these districts for copies of muster rolls, technical project proposals, cost estimates and copies of books of accounts. "We then compare these figures with what is actually taking place on the ground," Mr Kumar added.

The Centre has categorised eight kinds of work that can be undertaken in this scheme. NREGA also has a provision whereby SC/STs can receive funds to develop private land that has been allotted to them by the panchayats. Mr Rai points out, "Few tribals availed of this money because they have not heard about this scheme."

Social Watch examines four nodal institutions of governance — Parliament, the judiciary, policy-making and institutions of self-governance. It has also looked at the functioning of SEZs, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the RTI Act. From the time the RTI Act was promulgated, the CIC has received 4,404 complaints of which 2,646 have been disposed with penalties imposed on 10 officers.

Social Watch expressed unhappiness at the increasing "trivialisation" of Parliament, which had only 57 sittings in 2006 as against 85 sittings in 2005. Non-financial business consumed the bulk of the time in both Houses. The most important bills, including the Railway Budget, are being passed with little discussion. Even the SEZ bill was passed with less than two hours of discussion.

The report will be released on Friday.

By By Rashme Sehgal

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