Biram Nath,50,of Sadhuna village,about 60 km from Bikaner,Rajasthan,has been protesting outside the Nokha sub-divisional magistrate office for the past 73 days. His demand: take back Rs 6,453 credited to his account for working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The reason: neither he nor his family has worked even a single day on any MGNREGS project in Sadhuna.
Four jobs cards issued to his family were misused and payments to the tune of Rs 40,000 have been made to their accounts and later withdrawn by unknown persons. Apart from being paid for job never done,it also pointed to the fact that someone can access an account without the account-holders knowledge.
Biram Naths case is not unique. Since January 28,around 200 villagers here have been on an indefinite strike outside the local administrations office seeking a probe into the misuse of their job cards and bank accounts. Maange Ram Dudi,a former sarpanch of the village,is busy filing FIRs,sitting under a tent along with villagers drafting their complaints.
Another villager,Bal Kisan,along with his wife,has been working in a tea garden in Assam for several years. Despite this,Bal Kisan got a payment of Rs 26,378 against his job card for working on a project in his village in Himatsar between 2009 and 2012.
Not long ago,Koja Ram Meghwal,50,wanted a job. He met the sarpanch and the Rozgar Sevak,who said there was no work allotted in Sadhuna village. So he worked harder in his farm,reared cattle and even worked as a daily wage labourer at a construction site.
A few days back,he found Rs 4,630 in his account. When I pointed it out to the sarpanch and other government workers,they said I can keep the money but I must keep my mouth shut. We may be poor but we are not dishonest. Why should I take money for not doing anything? I only want the government to take it back and give me some real work, Meghwal said.
So far 22 FIRs have been filed against the sarpanch,gram sevak,development officer,technical assistant,post office personnel and several senior district officials. Another 25 FIRs are expected to be filed this week. Several complaints are being forwarded to the munsif court too.
Former sarpanch Dudi said if all the cases in Sadhuna are put together,at least Rs 72 lakh has been transferred and withdrawn for works that have neither been done nor have any of the villagers with genuine jobs cards engaged.
The MGNREGS website says that Sadhuna alone has 11 gravel road paving works sanctioned in addition to sand removal from roads and construction of 76 water-harvesting structures. None of the 200 protesting villagers were engaged in any of these works.
Social activist and co-founder of URMUL Jyoti,an NGO,Chetan Ram Godara,said,All the details about MGNREGA are available online. So the villagers know they have been duped. It is shocking how anyone can access a bank account by forging. If cash transfers take place for subsidies and other government schemes,the beneficiaries will always face the risk of losing their money through fraudulent transactions.
An inquiry was constituted about two months ago. But a report is yet to be compiled. Mohan Daan Ratan,SDM,Nokha,told The Indian Express,The district collector has set up an inquiry but the members were changed midway as the protesters said that the officials in the inquiry committee such as the executive engineer and the assistant engineer would not be fair.
He said a PWD executive engineer and an assistant engineer from the irrigation department have been brought on board. There are 17 points that have to be investigated and several cases,so the inquiry is taking longer, the SDM said.