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New Delhi: Government audits conducted in the last four years across the country have identified misappropriation to the tune of at least Rs 935 crore under various schemes of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), according to an Indian Express report. Experts suggest that the actual amount of misappropriation may be ‘three or four times’ the identified amount.
Social Audit Units (SAUs) which are under the rural development departments across the country have found identified financial misappropriation, the Indian Express reported. Though the data is in the public domain, it is difficult to access, the newspaper said. It obtained the data from the fiscal year (FY) 2017-18 to FY 2020-21 from the Management Information System (MIS) of the rural development ministry.
Just over 1% of the misappropriated amount – about Rs 12.5 – has so far been recovered.
Most financial misappropriation is done through bribery, payments to non-existent persons and procuring material at high rates.
According to the report, SAU audits have been carried out in 2.65 lakh gram panchayats of the country at least once over the past four years.
While the NDA government initially expressed disdain for MGNREGA, its importance has only risen in the past few years and especially so since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Allocations to the employment guarantee scheme have risen from Rs 55,659.93 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 1,10,355.27 crore in 2020-21.
Union rural development secretary Nagendra Nath Sinha in a recent letter to all state chief secretaries had asked why rural development departments have only made “little recoveries”. He told the Indian Express that “lack of attention” on this aspect is certainly an issue.
“Another is the determination of culpability of the persons concerned for the irregularities — and in absence of SOPs to handle such cases such determination is not easy,” he said. Sinha said that often, there were not enough people to ensure that the amount is recovered, but added, “But ultimately it boils down to lack of attention and lack of sensitivity in taking social audit to its logical conclusion.”
The report says that Tamil Nadu accounted for the highest misappropriation among states. In its 12,525 gram panchayats, Rs 245 crore was misappropriated but only Rs 2.07 crore (0.85%) was recovered. While one employee was suspended and two were dismissed, not a single FIR was filed, the Indian Express said.
Andhra Pradesh too reported a high amount of misappropriation, at Rs 239.31 crore in its 12,982 GPs. However, only Rs 4.48 crore (1.88%) was recovered. It fared better in taking action against employees: 10,454 employees were warned/censured; 551 employees were suspended; 180 employees were dismissed. It also filed three FIRs.
Audits in Gujarat found that only Rs 6,749 was misappropriated, but none of this amount was recovered. Most FIRs were filed in Jharkhand. Indeed, the state was responsible for more than a third of the 38 FIRs filed across the country in the past four years.
Experts that the Indian Express spoke to said that the ‘real’ misappropriation could “well be three or four times the identified amount”. In many gram panchayats, the audits have only been done once, they said. Another issue could be that many SAU’s are not independent, which is affecting the quality of audits and the intensity of action.