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NREGA in Gujarat: Ghost workers, diversion of wages to labour contractors

By Rajiv Shah 
Proactive disclosure under the right to information (RTI) Act underscores the need to voluntarily disclose information on subsidy schemes, which should be published and updated on a monthly basis. In this overall framework, the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, directed all states to not just kick-start social audit of the working of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), under which jobs are legally guaranteed to the rural poor for 100 days in a year to adult members of any household willing to do unskilled manual public work at the statutory minimum wage of Rs 120 per day in 2009 prices, failing which the government has to pay the salary at home. It also directed states to make voluntary disclosure of such social audit.
The working of MGNREGS in Gujarat has come under attack from those who are considered detractors of the state government. A Government of India document having “VIP Reference” gives a list of 17 such complaints. Well-known social activist Mallika Sarabhai says there was “misuse of funds by making 200,000 boribunds under MGNREGS in Gujarat”; ex-Congress MP Madhusudan Mistry says there have been “non-payment of wages, improper maintenance, irregularities and overwriting in muster rolls, and payment of wage through banks and post accounts to the person whose name do not appear in the muster”; ex-Congress MP Shavsi Makwana says there is “corruption, improper implementation, duplication of work, misuse of funds”; and ex-Congress MLA Siddharth Patel says there is “misuse of funds, use of machines and involvement of contractors.”
While it is possible to say that these complaints have been made by long-time critics of the Gujarat government, information provided by Gujarat government’s rural development department under voluntary disclosure, of the results of social audit, has gone a long way to establish not just the veracity of these allegations; they suggest that the malaise much deeper. The social audit of the working of the MGNREGS is being carried out on the basis of complaints received from four different quarters – (1) complaints at gram sabhas whose meetings take place every six months, (2) complaints to district monitoring officers sitting in the District Rural Development Agency, (3) telephone helpline, and (4) weekly review by senior district officials under One District One Panchayat banner.
But first the figures. Out of a total of 1,267 complaints received by the Gujarat government this financial year, starting in April 2013, which included a few which are a carry over from the last year, just 259 have been redressed, while a huge 1,008 are “pending” for inquiry. What is particularly shocking is that, of the total number of complaints, in as many as 315 cases complainants have stated that job cards and pass books are not under workers’ possession – suggesting that payments are being received directly by a middleman, who could possibly be a labour contractor. Of these, as many as 259 complaints are still pending. There are as many as 424 complaints of delayed payment, of which 369 are pending; there are 31 complaints of ghost workers, of which 27 are pending; and 29 complaints are of low wage payment, of which 22 are pending. Several of the complaints have multiple cases of corruption, suggesting that actual pending cases are much higher. The highest number of complaints are from Junagadh district, 144, of which 138 are pending as on July 31, 2013, followed by Sabarkantha, where out of 109 just six have been “redressed”, and Rajkot, where out of 99 complaints, 83 are pending.
However, these figures do not tell the full story. A closer perusal of individual complaints shows the type of grievances of those who go to work under the MGNREGS. First the most backward and predominantly tribal district of Dangs. At Dungarda gram panchayat, a complaint was made of ghost workers way back in December 2010, which remains pending till date. The voluntary disclosure under the header “Status of MGNREGS Grievance Redressal as on July 31, 2013 , says, “Three labourers who were supposed to have worked on rural connectivity work from Dabdar main road to Dabadar village said that they had not actually gone for work.” Another complaint at Dhhogiamba gram panchayat, made in March 2011, said, “Job cards are not updated and are not with labourers.”
A complaint at Baj gram panchayat in March 2011 also said that “job cards are not updated and pass books are not with the labourer.” Yet one more complaint, at Sivrimal gram panchayat, said, “Wall construction was carried out during April and May 2010”, giving a list of labourers who “did not work for single day, but their name is mentioned in muster roll.” A complaint at Khokharchod gram panchayat said, “As per the record, wall construction was carried out during July 2010”, giving a list of workers who received payment but did not work “even for a single day”. A complaint at Linga-Kadam gram panchayat said, “Road construction was carried out during April 2010”, giving details of the muster roll which has a list of labourers “who have not worked for single day”.
If things are bad for a backward district, they are not well in the “progressive” district of Ahmedabad either. A complaint at Sahij gram panchayat, money was being “cut” from what workers receive as wages under the MGNREGS. There was a complaint of “delayed payment“ at Sathad gram, about “delayed payment in checkdam construction work” at Kundali gram pandhayat, and “grievance related to non-existent work” at Zezra gram panchayat. But more serious complaints came in from Gandhinagar district as well, which is the state government’s seat of power.
At Pratapnagar village someone else was “keeping Job cards and passbooks”. The complaint underlined, “There are many labourers who have not worked but their names are there in muster roll and money has been withdrawn with their thumb impression and signature. From the withdrawal, some amount was given to labourers”. It gives mames of workers whose money was withdrawn by someone else — Vagri Sureshbhai Chaturbhai, (Rs 12,284 was withdrawn, while he was given only Rs 1,500), and Thakor Prahaladji Jinaji (Rs 2,852 was withdrawn, while he was given only Rs 700). “There are such around 50 labourers”, the complaint underlined, adding, “There are some workers who did not come for work for even a single day, but there name was there in muster roll.” Same was the case with Galathara village where “many labourers did not go for the work, but their names are shown in the muster roll, and payments have also been made in their account, but money has been withdrawn by someone else.”
In Amreli district, Saurashtra region, complaints were made related to “low wage payment” (Mota Devaliya village), and refusal to pay medical compensation to Kamlaben Kanubhai, who got injured during pond deepening work (Sandesar village). In Banaskantha district in North Guajrat, allegations were made regarding “ghost workers” in several muster rolls at Junisendhni, Dharewada and Nandotra villages. Then, there was an allegation at Madhpura gram panchayat, relating to “workers who have worked in protection wall work done in May-June 2012, but they had not actually gone for work.” At Chotil gram panchyat, there was a complaint which said “passbooks are not with workers” and there was “no entry in job cards” for Harijan Harji Dardha and Harijan Dungra Ruda. In Bhavnagar district, a complaint at Vav village was about “delayed payment in lake deepening work”, at Thala about “delayed payment in tree plantations work”, and at Khatsura about “low wage payment”. In Dahod district, at Baroda village, there was a complaint on “ghost workers in de-siltation of check dam” from June 6 to June 9, 2012, and at Dabhada village about “delayed payment in work”.
In Narmada district, the complaint at Pachhipura village was about plantation work having been done during 2010, but underlined, “Following labourers’ payment is due (1) Mathurbhai, Sansiben, 30 days), (2) Sukhrambhai, Kavitaben, 20 days), (3) Sitaben, Kumangbhai, 15 days), (4) Jivabhai, Kavitaben, Amarsingh (10 days), (5) Anuben, Kapilaben 30 days), Sarojben (15 days)”. In Varvala village, “nursery work was done for the forest department during March 27, 2011 to March 31, 2011”, but “payment of eight labourers is due.” In Navsari district, at Deshad village, there was “allegation of ghost workers in drainage work”. Then, there was a complaint at Deshad village, of Lakshmiben Surehsbhai Nayka, who worked only for five days whereas data shows 58 days, of Niruben Nathuben Nayka who worked for nine days whereas data shows 58 days (and payment of Rs 7,524), and of Shobhaben Rameshbhai Nayka, who did not work whereas data shows 49 days of work and Rs 6331 of payment.
In Sabarkantha district, in village Dantral, allegations were regarding “ghost workers in work of rural connectivity pitching work from Chai River to Raiva Primary School”. The name of workers mentioned is that of Dabhi Rameshbhai Modabhai, Dabhi Modabhai Bhugthabhai, and Dabhi Babubhai Khemabhai. A similar allegation was made at Ganva village, where “ghost workers worked in work of rural connectivity from Malvan bus stand to the Primary School at Jambudi Faliya during June-July 2012. The name of workers mentioned is, Dhrangi Modiben Divabhai, Dhrangi Virjibhai Nanabhai, and Dhrangi Sitaben Hamishbhai.” At Sakariya village, “job cards are not with workers and there is no entry in job cards”. In Kheroj village, “pass books are not with the workers”.

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