Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and Congress working president Hardik Patel on Saturday alleged that a multicrore scam surfaced in Banaskantha district where job cards were issued and bank accounts opened in the name of villagers, who claimed to have not registered for MNREGA work. Mevani also said that nearly 226 job cards were shown as deleted after the alleged scam surfaced. The deletions reflect in the online portal for MNREGA.
Banaskantha district collector Sandip Sagale told The Indian Express that the representations on the alleged scam made to him had been forwarded to the police for a “neutral probe”.
At least 12 of these villagers from Balundra village in the Amirgadh taluka of the district were present at a press meet organised by Mevani and Patel in Ahmedabad on Saturday and claimed that they are farm labourers.
“We never applied for any job under MNREGA, nor did we work. The works that the authorities claim to have completed were done by machines. There is no more work pending under MNREGA so we never applied. They opened accounts in our names and claimed to have made payment also,” said Hannabhai Dharmabhai Dhorana (25) from Balundra village in Amirgadh taluka of Banaskantha. His now deleted job card shows the date of registration as of January 2017.
Dhorana said panchayat and district authorities had taken documents to open their bank accounts several years ago. “They lied to us and said they would give us buffaloes under some scheme. This happened some five to six years ago. They took our election identity cards on this pretext,” said Dhorana.
“Six to seven of us went to the collector on March 16 and he told us to settle it internally. We went to the panchayat and they said it was not in their jurisdiction,” he added.
District development officer (DDO) Ajay Dahiya, however, said that cancellation or issuance of work card is done at the behest of the village sarpanch.
“Between April and June, 226 such dubious job cards have been deleted from the database as mysteriously as these cards were issued,” claimed Mevani. Deletion requires a formal application by the beneficiary for the same, which the villagers claim they never made.
The MNREGA online portal, for the current financial year, shows 601 households with 1,051 people registered in Balundra, of which 226 households’ job cards were deleted.
In the current year, 20 households with 49 people were added for job cards. Overall for financial year 2020-21, apart from the lockdown period when all work was stopped, 213 households had demanded employment of whom 207 households were provided jobs. On an average, those provided with jobs, worked an average of 18 days.
The deletions as reflecting in the list are dated from April 1 to June 21 this year. A majority of the reasons (159 of 226) listed for deletion say “Not willing to work”, while others say ‘fake job card’, ‘incorrect job card’, ‘duplicate job card’ and ‘village becomes urban’.
Kiran Babubhai Parmar (25) works at a cafe in Ahmedabad and yet a job card issued in January 2019 shows that he was employed under the MNREGA scheme between March 3 and 14 and again March 17 and March 28 this year, constructing earthen bunds in Vera village in Banaskantha and was paid Rs 2,241 against this work.
“I was in Ahmedabad and never worked under MNREGA as it is shown. Neither did I receive any money as they claim,” says Parmar. He shows his job card detail to prove. Parmar’s job card now stands deleted from the MNREGA database, as of April 1.
Further, Kiran’s mother Gitaben Babubhai Parmar appears to have been issued two job cards, one registered in May 2014 under the name of ‘Geetaben Babubhai Parmar’ and a second in January 2019 under the name of ‘Gitaben Babubhai Bhil’. For the former, the photo ID is that of a male and according to her, she never registered or worked under MNREGA.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Banaskantha collector Sagale said that he received a representation regarding the allegations made which has also been forwarded to the superintendent of police. “Strict cognisance has been taken and since police is a neutral agency, they are investigating the same. The district development officer too has been asked to obtain details of the implementing agency of these works,” he said.
R V Vala, director of district rural development agency (DRDA), however, said, “The taluka development officer B C Rajput is investigating the matter.”
Meanwhile, DDO Dahiya said, “Our office received a complaint with respect to the allegations that MLA Mevani has made pertaining to Balundra in Amirgadh taluka on July 30. An inquiry has been initiated based on this written complaint and shall be completed within a week. We are looking into the details on which work and which year these alleged fake job cards were issued and all documents in our database shall be checked including attendance sheet.
Mevani, who shared the documentary evidences along with payment sheets indicating payments made, said there are more than 500 villagers from Balundra village who never applied for MNREGA, never demanded any work under the said scheme, never visited the purported work sites and yet ATM cards, bank passbooks and MNREGA accounts were opened in their names.
“Solely for Balundra village, we suspect a scam of Rs 8-10 crore happened in the past 8-10 years. In Banaskantha, there are more than 300 villages and if you combine villages of all 33 districts of the state, this scam would be running into crores, which is ongoing even amid this Covid-19 crisis. Those deserving and wish to work are not getting any job and those who never sought any work, their documents have been falsified and have been taken advantage of unlawfully. This must be independently investigated and offences be registered. Let the state issue instructions to the district officers that whosoever is in need of MNREGA work be given so with immediate effect.”
Mevani claims that he has documentary evidence of at least a dozen more such villages indicating a scam in Banaskantha.
Balundra village of Amirgadh falls under the Vidhan Sabha constituency of Danta where Kanti Kharadi of Congress is the elected leader. Villagers claim their appeals before Kharadi has gone unheeded.
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