The much touted Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is once again in the news in Manipur for all the wrong reasons.
The MGNREGS is one of the flagship welfare programmes started during the Congress regime and continued in the current BJP regime under Prime Minister NarendraModi.
The scheme indeed benefitted lakhs of people in rural areas with a guarantee of payment for 100 days' work, but it also killed the work culture among farmers and agricultural labourers, and became a breeding ground for corruption among village and local level representatives.
So much for power devolution at the grassroots level.
Now, as the Manipur government is gearing up to hold elections to various municipalities and other local self-government institutions, allegations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds by both elected and non-elected officials under the scheme have come up.
There are several reports of gross irregularities in the implementation of MGNREGS and a deep-rooted conspiracy hatched by Panchayati Raj officials, both elected and unelected, with the full knowledge of ‘gullible’ job card holders, to misappropriate huge sums of money.
In April 2022, there was a lot of hue and cry over non-payment of wages due to them by the panchayat officials and job card holders, which the panchayat officials alleged to have been diverted by the state Rural Development and Panchayati Raj department.
It is like a sadistic joke played on the general people and public fund.
After a statewide bandh called by the Panchayati Raj employees, the state government relented and released a part of the funds. But according to Panchayat Parishad functionaries, there are still crores of rupees sanctioned towards material component held up by the state government.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 or MGNREGA, earlier known as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA, is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the 'right to work' provided by the Constitution of India, it stated.
Under the NREGA Scheme, which is now renamed as MGNREGS, 100 days of guaranteed wage employment should be provided to an individual of a rural household, it stated.
It also mentioned that one-third of job card holders should be women and to give unemployment allowance if demanded employment is not provided to those who have received a job card within 15 days. However, the guarantees still remains a pipe dream.
In a recent Women’s Convention on MGNREGA 2005 held on May Day, it has drawn the government's attention to the decreasing number of working days of job card holders due to the failure to provide timely wages to job card holders in Manipur, among other grievances. It was organised by the All Manipur NupiMarup in Imphal on May 1, in an effort to raise awareness on MGNREGS and its benefits.
At the Convention, the NupiMarup functionaries said that usage of new machineries under MGNREGA and failure to provide the wages of job card holders in time has led to the decrease in number of working days of the job card holders.
The women functionaries also expressed discontentment over the lack of timely conduct of social audit of the flagship scheme by Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.
One of the major complaints is the increase in misuse of wages of job card holders by programme officers, Pradhan, Junior Engineer or some members.
We understand that the present minister holding charge of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj is an upright gentleman and it is expected of him to solve the problem of wages and funds.
Read More: IFP Editorial