Villagers were paid wages two months late which is a violation of rules.

The government’s flagship scheme for the rural poor was meant to provide succour to the unemployed but here, at least, it seems to be the cause of distress.

A recent social audit into the workings of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGREGS) in Bihar by the Jan Jagran Abhiyan (JJA) in Araria district revealed serious problems of implementation. Chandi village in Vaishali district saw frustrated ‘beneficiaries’ burning their job cards in anger at not being provided work for the last three years.

Systemic deficiencies

Now, a survey of five panchayats in Katihar district by the JJA has revealed gaping systemic deficiencies in the MGREGS apparatus, with villagers being forced to endure a lengthy wait to receive their rightful wages.

Villagers of five panchayats in Katihar demanded work and submitted work applications. Despite their applications being received, they did not get any work.

No supervisor

In Mohanpur in Mansahi block, villagers were promised work only after they sat on dharna. In neighbouring Chittoriya, villagers managed to secure work only after repeated protests.

To compound their misery, the villagers were paid wages for work during this period only in mid-January, almost two months later, a direct violation of rules which stipulate payment within seven days.

Much to the dismay of villagers from Mohanpur and Chittoriya, there was not a single supervisor, a representative of the Mukhiya or the Panchayat Sevak, to register their attendance when they reached the worksite.

“There is usually no prior information or notice regarding opening and closing of a work. There is not a single official to register our attendance at the work site. It is extremely frustrating during these long lulls,” says Ashok Paswan, a villager from Mansahi.

‘Consistent pressure required’

During this period, villagers were forced to run from village post office, to sub-post office and the NREGA office at Mansahi block — all in the hope of claiming their elusive wages.

“Consistent pressure is needed on authorities; so in the process, many of the villagers who lack the capacity to fight on are forced to accept things,” says Ashish Ranjan, of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan.

According to him, the MGREGS office sends the cheque along with pay advice to the village post office. But the latter, not having their own bank accounts, send it back to the sub or concerned post office, which in turn deposits the cheque for clearance.

“We are harassed as sub-post office staff often rudely tell us that the cheque has been sent for clearance and that one should enquire at the bank,” says Deepnarayan Paswan of Chittoriya.

The other problem, according to Mr. Ranjan is that the panchayat post office is usually housed in the residence of one of the well-to-do villager, who pays wages to the villagers on his whim.

“In many cases, he is in cahoots with the Rojgar Sevak, and both blackmail villagers by threatening delayed payments until they receive their cuts.”

While the government has taken a welcome, albeit belated, step by signing an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Postal Department in November last year to resolve the procedural delay in getting the wage money to the panchayat post offices, the major roadblock yet to be overcome is the delay in making the pay advice by the MGREGS department.