Mahisagar: Probe into misappropriation of MNREGA funds

  • The Mahisagar district administration has initiated a probe into an alleged misappropriation of funds to the tune of Rs 1 crore from Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) projects, after a whistleblower wrote to various government departments, including the Rural Development Depart as well as the Gujarat Vigilance Commission, seeking an inquiry.
  • According to the petitioner, Indravadan Parikh, an advocate in Santrampur, four talukas of Mahisagar District — Santrampur, Lunawada, Virpur and Balasinor — have misappropriated funds from MGNREGA by making payments to five vendors for works that were completed nearly three years ago. Parikh said that he learnt about the scam through official sources and decided to pursue the matter.
  • “I got to know about a payment of Rs 19 lakh to a vendor in January 2019, for a work that was completed in the Santrampur block in 2006. The work was given completion certificate and locked with a digital signature as per the process. However, officials made a request to unlock and modify the signature and made a payment to a vendor who was not involved in the work.
  • In February 2020, Parikh sought information pertaining to MGNREGA projects across the district from the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) Mahisagar but due to the Covid-19 lockdown in March, the agency did not revert to Parikh. All works under MGNREGA from the four blocks of the district are completed works related to check dams and some forest department works from the previous decade, sources added.
  • “In July this year, they sent me a back dated letter seeking payment of fees for the information to show that they had replied within the 30-day time frame of RTI but because they sent it by registered post, the date of posting the letter showed that they didn’t reply in time,” Parikh said.
  • He then wrote to the Rural Development Department as well as the Gujarat Vigilance Commission. “Both the departments took cognisance of my complaints and sought reports from the district department. The Director of DRDA Mahisagar is conducting an inquiry but they have not even replied to the Department or Commission,” he added.
  • A letter dated September 22 from Assistant Commissioner Rural Development Department Gujarat, Dev Chaudhary, to the Mahisagar District Development Officer seeks a report within seven days with details of the said allegation. However, the district is yet to apprise the department.
  • Chaudhary told The Indian Express, “We have received a complaint regarding the alleged payments made to vendors to the tune of Rs 1 crore. We sought a report but we have not received any reply from the district. We will send them a reminder again.”
  • Parikh added that the digital signatures could not be modified without the consent of the office of the Commissioner of the Rural Development Department as per the process and, therefore, the involvement of officials from both the DRDA as well as the state government department cannot be ruled out.
  • “I told the Vigilance Commi-ssion that the DRDA Director of Mahisagar has not taken any action in the matter since January 2019 and so it does not appear to be a case of ignorance of facts. There are officials involved… to cover up, they had some of the five vendors return the money paid to them online but not all of them have returned the money,” Parikh said. The vendors are from Godhra, Santrampur, Lunawada and Sehra.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)

About MGNREGA:

  • The scheme was introduced as a social measure that guarantees “the right to work”. The key tenet of this social measure and labour law is that the local government will have to legally provide at least 100 days of wage employment in rural India to enhance their quality of life.

Key objectives:

  • Generation of paid rural employment of not less than 100 days for each worker who volunteers for unskilled labour.
  • Proactively ensuring social inclusion by strengthening livelihood base of rural poor.
  • Creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals.
  • Reduce urban migration from rural areas.
  • Create rural infrastructure by using untapped rural labour.

The following are the eligibility criteria for receiving the benefits under MGNREGA scheme:

  1. Must be Citizen of India to seek NREGA benefits.
  2. Job seeker has completed 18 years of age at the time of application.
  3. The applicant must be part of a local household (i.e. application must be made with local Gram Panchayat).
  4. Applicant must volunteer for unskilled labour.

Key facts related to the scheme:

  • The Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Govt of India is monitoring the entire implementation of this scheme in association with state governments.
  • Individual beneficiary oriented works can be taken up on the cards of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, small or marginal farmers or beneficiaries of land reforms or beneficiaries under the Indira Awaas Yojana of the Government of India.
  • Within 15 days of submitting the application or from the day work is demanded, wage employment will be provided to the applicant.
  • Right to get unemployment allowance in case employment is not provided within fifteen days of submitting the application or from the date when work is sought.
  • Social Audit of MGNREGA works is mandatory, which lends to accountability and transparency.
  • The Gram Sabha is the principal forum for wage seekers to raise their voices and make demands.
  • It is the Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayat which approves the shelf of works under MGNREGA and fix their priority.

Role of Gram Sabha:

  • It determines the order of priority of works in the meetings of the Gram Sabha keeping in view potential of the local area, its needs, local resources.
  • Monitor the execution of works within the GP.

Roles of Gram Panchayat:

  • Receiving applications for registration
  • Verifying registration applications
  • Registering households
  • Issuing Job Cards (JCs)
  • Receiving applications for work
  • Issuing dated receipts for these applications for work
  • Allotting work within fifteen days of submitting the application or from the date when work is sought in the case of an advance application.
  • Identification and planning of works, developing shelf of projects including determination of the order of their priority.

Responsibilities of State Government in MGNREGA:

  • Frame Rules on matters pertaining to State responsibilities under Section 32 of the Act ii) Develop and notify the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for the State.
  • Set up the State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC).
  • Set up a State level MGNREGA implementation agency/ mission with adequate number of high calibre professionals.
  • Set up a State level MGNREGA social audit agency/directorate with adequate number of people with knowledge on MGNREGA processes and demonstrated commitment to social audit.
  • Establish and operate a State Employment Guarantee Fund (SEGF).