A probe into work done under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in a block of Jharkhand has thrown up muck— excavators replaced labourers, work only on paper, and attempts to hoodwink auditors with fake pictures.
These are some of irregularities found by the state’s Rural Development Department in the work done under the scheme in Chatra district’s Pratappur block at a cost of Rs 25 lakh.
The report on money granted for work that was never done and employment that had never been created assumes significance as the state government has launched three schemes under MGNREGA, anticipating work demand from the nearly 5 lakh migrant workers who have returned home after lockdown hit livelihood in cities.
In Jharkhand’s 24 districts, 6.59 lakh individuals have worked under MGNREGA so far in this financial year, according to data on MGNREGA portal, and 89.27 lakh person days have been generated.
The investigation into seven completed jobs — building dirt road, digging 6 ponds — in Pratappur revealed that the road could not be found even though Rs 46,000 was paid for the work in 2013 and ponds, in 2018-19, were dug using machines.
Chatra DC Jitendra Kumar Singh said: “MGNREGA additional commissioner headed the inquiry and based on their report and order, we terminated contract of all 14 persons with immediate effect.” NREGA Commissioner Siddharth Tripathi said, “We have also ordered recovery of misappropriated amount with 12 per cent interest. Jobs of all contractual employees will be terminated and a criminal case will be filed against people who have done wrong.”
James Herenj, convenor of NREGA Watch, said the government needs to actively monitor all work under MGNREGA. Herenj is also the Steering Committee member of Social Audit Unit under Rural Development Department. “There have been various instances of machines being used instead of manual labour in various blocks because of lack of real- time monitoring,” he said.
He cited two instances of irregularities in April and May.
A letter sent to the Palamu administration by a three- member team, including Herenj, stated that survey of five work sites in Uldanda Panchayat of Ramgarh block of Palamu revealed that contractors were squeezing in the names of fake labourers in the muster roll. “Although real labourers were paid, but through fake labourers on muster roll, the government’s money is being siphoned off,” the letter said.
In another letter to BDO, Chiniya in Garhwa district, Herenj said excavators were used in digging an irrigation well costing Rs 3.81 lakh and muster roll was not generated. The BDO on May 12 responded that the work has been “cancelled”.
Rural Development Department Secretary Aradhana Patnaik has now asked Deputy Commissioners and Deputy Development Commissioners to conduct “concurrent social audits” of all MGNREGA work, starting June 1.
Herenj said concurrent audit was an important step towards real-time monitoring. Earlier, the work was audited after the completion of a financial year. “Now, one can pick up a muster roll, and go to a work site and check whether the names mentioned are actually working.”
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