Claims of Jharkhand’s Success in NREGS Implementation Are Far From Reality

Civil society bodies say the state has exaggerated data on the scheme, which suffers from large-scale delays in wage payments.

File photo of NREGA workers. Credit: PTI

File photo of NREGA workers. Credit: PTI

Contrary to recent claims by the union rural development ministry of Jharkhand having performed extraordinarily well in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), a few state-level NGOs working to get the scheme executed properly have said that the state government’s employment data have been exaggerated and the scheme suffers from large-scale delays in wage payments.

In June, a 70-member team led by ministry joint secretary Aparajita Sarangi visited Ranchi to evaluate the implementation of the NREGS and the central Cluster Facilitation Team (CFT) project, which seeks to converge NREGS and the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). Following a three-day evaluation, Sarangi lauded the efforts of the state government in implementing the crucial scheme, which had fared poorly in the past.

The CFT project was started by the Modi government two years ago in 250 backward blocks as a measure to enhance rural livelihoods through the NREGS. Seventy-six of the 250 blocks selected are in Jharkhand. Seeing the progress, Sarangi announced that 50 more blocks in the state will be included in the CFT project. According to the project, each block must have three CFTs with an annual central grant of Rs 28 lakh for each of them. While she lauded Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan for efforts to implement the CFT, Sarangi also criticised the lack of interest in the project from Bihar, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

However, NGOs like NREGA Watch and Vikas Sahyog Kendra, a few members of the state employment guarantee council and the noted economist Jean Dreze have stated that complaints regarding delays in payments for NREGS work and other structural problems reveal new data that throws the state government’s success claims off the board.

Limited success in reality

Speaking to The Wire, James Herenz, convenor of NREGA Watch, said, “Complaints regarding non-payment of wages show that the implementation of NREGA in Jharkhand is far from ideal”. He pointed out many levels of corruption in the scheme’s implementation in the state and various degrees of violations of the Act.

He said that the violations of the NREGS have occurred primarily on three fronts – delays in payments, an exaggerated completion rate of work and overriding gram sabha powers in the scheme’s implementation.

Under the CFT, the selected blocks had to construct dobhas (ponds). However, according to a survey in four districts of Jharkhand for April, May and June, Herenz and his associates found that only 50% of the workers under the NREGS had been paid. The survey, the conclusions of which are based upon official complaints from the villages, also found that only 40% of the total work initiated under the scheme has been fully completed, while the state government says 80% of work had been completed.

Most workers complained about non-payment of wages and false assurances by NREGS contractors, according to Herenz. In Bokaro and West Singbhum, almost Rs 2 lakh are yet to be disbursed as wages, whereas the workers have to get Rs 54000 and Rs 14000 in Palamu and Latehar respectively. Herenz also said that the state government claims to have built one lakh dobhas in the current financial year but that figure is a hugely exaggerated.

In addition, the survey found that many of the workers who have worked under the scheme did not find their names in the muster rolls. “In the bid to meet the target set by the government of constructing 1.5 lakh dobhas across the state, most workers were made to work with the assurance that muster rolls with their names would be generated as soon as possible. (Even such promises are a violation of the Act as muster rolls are to be generated before workers start work and are to be available at the worksite for inspection.) For many of these workers, muster rolls have still not been generated,” said a joint press release prepared by Dreze and his associated organisation.

“Many dobhas for which wage payments are pending have been “closed” in the NREGASoft (the Management Information System of the employment guarantee act), thereby precluding any further payments on them,” the statement added.

Sarangi, while praising the efforts of Jharkhand and appealing to other states to learn from it, had accepted a 18% wage delay. But Herenz believes the figure could be much higher if actual data is collected in all districts.

The survey, although limited to only four districts, points out how the NREGS fails on multiple fronts. “While Jharkhand can be lauded for opening up work across the state – a persistent problem – the unwillingness to pay the workers on time only point towards a lack of sincerity on the state government’s part,” said Herenz

One of the biggest promises of the BJP in Jharkhand was to create greater avenues for employment in the state, which has been reeling under the impact of a deteriorating industrial ecosystem and rampant corruption at all levels. With chief minister year Raghubar Das now being in power for one-and-half years, critics are saying, he has failed to contain both. If the state government’s NREGS figures are actually found to be exaggerated, it could be yet another cause of embarrassment for the BJP.