Saturday, April 04, 2015

No guaranteed work under NREGA to Gujarat's rural job seekers, complain state activists

By Our Representative
Evidence from the ground has suggested that, in most of Gujarat’s districts, work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is virtually on a standstill for about six months. Responding to information with Counterview that the Gujarat officialdom has not allocated any under NREGA since October 1980, NGOs working on livelihood issues with rural poor confirmed that there is no work in “80 per cent of the locations even though people show job cards to do work.”
The information has trickled close on the heels of a top National Sample Survey (NSS) report, which says that in 29.2 per cent of cases in Gujarat rural people sought work under NREGA but were not allocated. This is against the national average of 18.8 per cent refusal (click HERE to read).
A flagship programme of the ex-Congress-led UPA rule at the Centre, the Narendra Modi regime which came to power in May 2014 first tried to whittle down NREGA, but when there was widespread resentment, it backtracked and even declared, in the last budget, that it would raise the total allocation for NREGA by Rs 5,000 crore if such a need such arose.
According to complaints from rural activists in Gujarat, several major reasons are being forwarded for “withdrawal” from NREGA. These include lack of funds, lack of staff to monitor NREGA work, and lack of clarity on whether to continue with NREGA. A senior activist, speaking anonymously, said, “At least half-a-dozen district development officers have told me that there is no work under NREGA.”
Quoting a senior government official who directly deals with NREGA, this activist said, as of October 2015, the Gujarat government had just Rs 17 crore at its disposal for NREGA works. “What is Rs 17 crore? The whole fund is enough for just 17 days”, the official was quoted as saying.
Then, this activist pointed out, as against the required staff strength of 8,000, needed to monitor NREGA, there aren’t more than 5,000 working, as a result of which work cannot be allocated. “If at all, only labour work, which requires no equipment and machinery, is being allocated, because equipment and machinery would cost extra”, he said.
The activist alleged, in some areas of Sabarkantha district, especially in Vijaynagar and Khedbrahma areas, a case is going on against corruption under NREGA, and the officialdom has stopped all work declaring the matter is “sub judice.” He commented, “There is no provision in the NREGA that no work would be given if there are charges of corruption.”
When contacted, Paulomee Mistry, who runs a well-represented tribal organization in several of Gujarat’s districts, particularly Banaskantha, Sabarkathna, Panchmahals and Dahod, told Counterview, “Officials allow NREGA work only when we put pressure, as it happened recently in Idar. Otherwise they are not interested in NREGA. We are running a campaign, under which 20,000 postcards have been sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi protesting against the withdrawal from NREGA.”
A senior Gujarat government official sought to deny that there was any withdrawal from NREGA in Gujarat. “In all 50,000 workers are working under NREGA right now”, claimed this official, though strongly refused to come on record. He added, “There are clearcut guidelines to give only agriculture-related work, hence work involving equipment and machinery is not being allocated under NREGA. We have no funds problems, either. We have Rs 500 crore allocated in the present budget.”
Even as contending that work under NREGA “cannot be denied under the law” and every name is being “electronically fed” and money transferred to the bank accounts directly, when asked how many people were employed previously under NREGA and if numbers have come down, this official refused to give any information.

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