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Official 'negligence' behind rural jobs scheme worker Lakhan's suicide in Jharkhand

The well constructed by Lakhan
Counterview Desk
The Jharkhand NREGA Watch, in a Fact Finding Report on the death of Lakhan Mahto, 43, last week, has said that the chief reason for his suicide is failure of the government administration, which refused to re-imburse the “outstanding amount of Rs 1,18,545 from the government for the wages and material payments”, which he badly needed in order repay the loan he had taken from informal sources. 
Calling it a “major administrative failure”, as Lakhan was “literally forced to take risky loans while the government has the responsibility to make all payments under MGNREGA and the beneficiaries are not supposed to invest a single penny”, the report states that “28 other MGNREGA well beneficiaries are also facing similar situations.”

Text of the report:

On July 25, 2019, Lakhan Mahto, 43, a resident of Patratu village of Patratu Gram panchayat in Chanho block, jumped into a well that he himself had constructed and gave his life. He was the lone earning member of the household. While the family was dependent on cultivation, Lakhan also had to work as labourer for coping with the distress. Lakhan’s 85-year-old mother (Gujari Devi), 36-year-old wife (Vimala Devi) and three children Suraj (18 years), Neeraj (15 years) and Praveen (12 years) were the other members of the family.

Cause of death

Lakhan Mahto had constructed a well under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGREGA) on his land. The work code of this scheme is 3401005010/IF/7080901221509 and was sanctioned in December 2017. Lakhan had to pay for the materials as well as for the labour wages as the payments were not made on time. He had to take loans for this purpose and was hoping that the money will be soon received from the government.
However, despite a lot of efforts he could not get back the money for materials which he had already invested. This resulted in a lot of stress and soon, Lakhan was under great psychological trauma and depression.
On the day of the tragedy, Lakhan woke up at around 4’o clock in the morning and went to the nearby farm where he had the well, constructed. When he did not return for a long time, people went in search for him and found him dead inside the well.
Lakhan's wife

Administration's negligence

Lakhan’s wife, Vimla Devi, said that her husband had to borrow a total Rs 1.70 Lakh from three of his relatives between January and February 2018 for completion of the well, but he could not repay the loan even after 14 months as wages and material payments were not released to the concerned labourers and vendors in their bank accounts, by the government.
It is a major administrative failure that Lakhan was literally forced to take risky loans while the government has the responsibility to make all payments under MGNREGA and the beneficiaries are not supposed to invest a single penny.
Further, it is important to understand that Lakhan had to pay to the labourers at a local rate which is much higher than the then MGNREGA wage rate of Rs 168 per day. The block administration could not ensure a timely material supply to the worksite which compelled him to take loan from others for procuring the materials in order to complete the scheme.
Lakhan, for the last 13 months, had been regularly visiting the block office, hoping for re-imbursement of the outstanding amount of Rs 1,18,545 from the government for the wages and material payments. Apart from Lakhan Mahto, in Patratu Panchayat, 28 other MGNREGA well beneficiaries are also facing similar situations.

Present situation

Even after five days of this tragic event, the government has neither offered a single benefit or compensation to the family and nor had paid the outstanding money which led to the tragic death of Lakhan Mahto. The mother of Lakhan, Gujri Devi, an 85-year-old elderly lady, did not get the benefit of old age pension under the central pension scheme despite being eligible for the benefit. 
The ration received under the Annapurna Anna Yojana was discontinued in December 2010. While she has submitted applications at the Panchayat and Block level several times, her grievances still remain unheard and unaddressed.
The family has not yet been offered the benefits of National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) under the National Social Assistance programme (NSAP) wherein the family is suppose to get a onetime compensation of Rs 20,000 after the death of the earning member of the family.
Lakhan's family members

Baseless claims by the administration

During interaction with the family members the fact finding committee had found out that the claims made by the Block administration that Lakhan was drunk and intoxicated during the time of the incident, is baseless and false. The neighbours and family members had shared that Lakhan was never addicted to alcohol.

Jharkhand NREGA Watch demands that:

  1. As per the notification 4-110 (NREGA)/ 10 RDD 4716, Ranchi, dated 01/08/2011, immediate compensation should be paid to the dependents of Lakhan Mahto.
  2. The family members should be provided Rs. 20000 immediately as per the National Family Benefit Scheme(NFBS) 
  3. VImla Devi, wife of late Lakhan Mahto, should be enrolled under the widow pension scheme and the administration must ensure the payments of the same with immediate effect. 
  4. The pending material payments for the scheme should be made immediately and re-imbursement of the to Lakhan’s family must be ensured. 
  5. We demand strong administrative action against the responsible officials who had failed to make on time payments which in turn led to the tragic incident. The department should identify the responsible persons and file criminal cases against them as soon as possible. 
  6. The state government should take appropriate and effective steps to eradicate the complexity in material procurement and payments.

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