People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 32

August 09, 200

MADHYA PRADESH

 

Rural Job Act Is There: Without Job Guarantee

 

Jaswinder Singh

 

NO jobs came; the thieves have of course multiplied to four. This was the comment Babu of Jamadi village in the tribal preponderant Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh made on the status of implementation of the National Rural Employment Guaranteed Act (NREGA) in the district. He explained it thus: only the village headmen and panchayat secretaries robbed the rural poor of their due daily wages before the NREGA came into force; now the bank managers and cashiers are also forcibly taking their “cuts” since the payment of wages through banks was made compulsory. Shahdol has been covered by the scheme since the very beginning.   

 

THE CORRUPT

HAVE THEIR WAY

The comment shows how corruption is deep rooted in the system itself; and the corrupt have their way in any case. Under the NREGA, workers were allowed to open accounts with zero balance, with the specific aim of ensuring them full wage payment. The general complaint was that village headmen and panchayat secretaries pay the workers less than their due wages. But now, if workers approach the designated bank after having worked for a specific number of days, they are repeatedly sent back with the pet reply that no money has as yet come from above. In sum, they get the payment only after they first make a specific kind of payment.

This corruption pervades every aspect of the scheme --- from work to payment --- and it has got official protection. The unholy triumvirate of political leaders, bureaucrats and contractors is making a mockery of the legislation and the people have started saying that it is not a rural employment guarantee scheme but a contractors employment guarantee scheme. Though the scheme covers all the districts of Madhya Pradesh since last year, neither the villagers are getting adequate employment under it nor is there a stop to their migration because of its faulty implementation.

The situation in Indore, known as the commercial capital of the state, is such that newspapers have reported the emigration of five thousand families from Depalpur, Mhow and Sanwer between January and April this year. In the same period, about 70,000 families had migrated out from Malwa and Nimar, and the trend has definitely intensified in the months of May and June. All the nine tehsils of Khargaun district have been declared drought affected but no drought relief work has started here, nor has anybody got a job under the NREGA. The departmental review meetings organised by the chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, have revealed that no jobs are available to the rural people in eight districts under the NREGA, and that is why migration from there is in full swing. These districts are Sheopur, Khargaun, Shahdol, Jabalpur, Mandsaur, Neemach, Ashok Nagar and Rajgarh. In a district like Gwalior, only 10 per cent of the cardholders have got any work.

Now attempts are afoot to blame the villagers in order to cover up the failures of others. The argument coming from the administration is that villagers have no interest in getting a job. But who would buy this argument? For want of a job, people are forced to migrate to unknown lands where they have in store nothing but a life of humiliation and insecurity; then who would refuse a job if it were available in one’s own village?              

 

BJP GOVT’S

COMPLICITY

Corruption in implementation starts from the very first stage of job card issuance. A CAG report for 2006-07 mentions the involvement of the state government’s agencies in large-scale bungling and criminal violations of law at several stages. For example, thousands of minors were given job cards, many adults were kept deprived of it, and lakhs of fake cards were issued to non-existing people. The report said 44,883 cards without even the cardholders’ photographs were issued in Barwani though pasting a photo is compulsory under the law. The corresponding number was 45,593 in Jhabua and 57,608 in Sidhi. The report talked of a large number of similar cases in Indore, Bhopal, Dhar, Dindori and other districts. The very look of these cards conveys that they are fake and were made with the sole purpose of facilitating corruption.

Another crime of the Shivraj government’s was to issue cards for the minors. About this criminal act of the BJP government, the report said job cards were allotted to 2,26,596 minors in Barwani, 2,76,446 in Jhabua and 4,26,103 in Sidhi, apart from in Bhopal, Dindori, Dhar and other districts. So munch so that even the central government had had to issue a notice to the state BJP government in this regard. The Shivraj government sent a humbug reply to this notice --- that the cardholders were minors when these cards were issued but had become adult when they were given jobs. But this very reply was an admission of crime on part of the BJP government as the law says a minor cannot be issued a job card.

According to the CAG report, 44,00,046 families were registered for NREGA jobs in the state, 28,00,069 applied for jobs and only 5,32,000 were given jobs under the scheme. On the other hand, the state government has paid 1,13,00,000 rupees to the minors. This shows that the scheme, devised for the common people under mass pressure, is being sacrificed at the altar of corruption.

The system of issuing fake job cards is still intact. Ashok Kumar, son of Hub Lal of Kothi village in Anuppur district, says his job card has no photo and that the work done by him under the scheme is not entered in his job card. Santosh Sahu of the same village had worked for 77 days till May but has not yet received his wage for a single day. The general complaint in Shahdol, Anuppur, Umaria, Sidhi and other districts is that though the stipulated daily wage is Rs 91, a person is left with only 50 to 60 rupees after making payments to the four said thieves.

If we leave Barwani apart, no unemployment allowance has been paid under the Act, in any district. The Act says that a registered applicant will be given a job within 15 days of his request or given unemployment allowance for the days till he is given a job. But, through the district collectors, the state government has conveyed the order to the village headmen that they must take applications from only as many persons as may be given jobs. Suspicions about the state government’s motive start from here. Under the Act, the centre pays the wages for the work done in this scheme. But, in case the need arises, the state government is obliged to pay the unemployment allowance. Hence the number of applications to be received is kept within limits so that the state government is not constrained to pay the allowance.

 

DRAWBACKS IN

IMPLEMENTATION

Now the question is whether villagers do not want a job under this scheme or the government is not willing to give them work. One must note here that, quite naturally, no villager would come forward for NREGA work if work were available in agricultural operations in the village. If an applicant is a small or middle peasant, he would prefer to take care of his own cultivation at such a time. As for an agricultural worker, (s)he would get better remuneration by working in a field. Even today, several parts of the country have the custom of paying the agricultural workers in kind, at least in part. In such a case, an agricultural worker prefers to work in a field as this ensures food for his family for at least a few months if not for the whole year. Secondly, who would like to work under the NREGA if there is bungling in payment and the work gives the worker Rs 50 or 60 in place of Rs 91 a day? Thirdly, in case of the piece-rate system, a worker fails to get proper remuneration. It is not logical to pay a day’s wage only when a worker digs 10 feet by 10 feet by 1 foot of earth. If the soil is rocky or dry, and three workers dig a pit of the specified size in a day, each would get only Rs 30 a day. And if women are allotted this work, only four or five would be able to do it and their remuneration would be correspondingly less. It is not possible for anybody to opt for this kind of work. Fourthly, digging the soil and throwing it away are two different operations but, under the NREGA, one worker is made to do both. This means making one person do two persons’ work and paying him just Rs 60, i e not even one person’s wage.

For the success of the scheme, the government needs to ensure that a worker gets a job in the lean season when he needs it most, that (s)he gets proper wage for his work, and that (s)he is not subjected to exploitation.

The Act stipulates that 30 per cent of the work must go to women workers, and that there would be the provision of a crčche wherever women are working. But if this facility is not available even in government offices, can one hope to have it at a NREGA site? One does not have even potable water at such a site. Also, digging the earth is not the only task under the NREGA; there are 17 jobs specified under the scheme --- from planting a tree to fencing a field. But workers are seldom given these tasks. Moreover, the policy-makers have to ponder what other works can be included in the scheme so that the village people get the maximum possible benefits from it.

 

HEIGHT OF

CRIMINALITY

But the effects of these drawbacks of the scheme get multiplied by the way the BJP government of the state is implementing it, depriving the poor of the paltry means of livelihood they have got. The district officials have prepared a list of the people who have not worked under the NREGA, and the official conclusion is that these people do not need work under the scheme.    The administration has thus decided to delete their names from the BPL (below poverty line) category. For example, five thousand families in Kailaras tehsil of Moreina district alone are going to be excluded from the BPL list. Most of them are from the dalit communities or other weaker sections. Before deciding so, the administration did not even think it necessary to enquire why they did not work under the scheme. Is it not possible that they took their applications to the village headmen and the latter refused to take the same or, else, did not issue a receipt? Is it not possible that when the panchayat called them, agricultural operations were in full swing and the applicants were getting better wages?

All such questions need to be probed. One must also probe whether the villagers are getting proper remuneration under the NREGA; if not, who are depriving them of their due; whether they are paid on time or not; etc. Without these questions having been addressed, it would be sheer injustice if some villagers are excluded from the BPL list. It would also amount to shielding the corruption prevalent in the implementation process and punish the poor for the other people’s bunglings.

Working under the NREGA is not the only criterion to judge whether a person is below the poverty line. If a person is terminally sick or physically unable to do hard work, does it mean that (s)he should be excluded from the BPL list and thus deprived of foodgrains at low prices and forced to starve? Take an example. What would a widow do if she heads a family and her child is sick? Obviously, she would first look after her child. Does it mean that she has no need of NREGA work? Will it be justified if her name is struck off the BPL rolls on this ground? The irony, courtesy the height of criminality on part of the BJP government in the state, is that NREGA jobs are not going to the people who need it most, and now the same people are going to be deprived of cheap ration on the plea that they don’t belong to the BPL category.

All this in no way means that the scheme, in itself, is worthless. Even the ILO has expressed the opinion in a report that NREGA was one of the potent factors if India was comparatively less affected by the global recession. The latter’s impact could have been minimised many times over if only the concerned authorities at various levels had implemented the scheme in earnestness.

In sum, while the scheme demands political will on part of the political and bureaucratic authorities, it also requires organised intervention by the poor for their rights. Among other things, they must have to also demand that the minimum days of availability of work for a villager must be enhanced from the existing 100 days to 180 days.