‘There are inherent loopholes in the system and funds have been embezzled’

The government will convene a meeting of leaders of agricultural labourers and senior officials of the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) shortly to discuss hurdles in effective implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).

After inaugurating a State-level convention of the Karnataka Pranta Krishi Koolikarara Sangha, T.M. Vijayabhaskar, Principal Secretary, RDPR, on Monday said the meeting would address problems being faced by farm labourers in availing themselves of benefits of the MNREGA.

Admitting that there were inherent loopholes in the implementation system and funds earmarked for the scheme had been embezzled by some officials, he said the department had directed authorities to settle the wage bills of workers on priority. “Directions have been issued to launch a campaign in rural areas to create awareness on the utility of the scheme,” he said.

Refuting the claim that wage in rural areas was more than that fixed under the MNREGA, he said that studies had revealed that labourers were not getting more than Rs. 174 a day — the wage fixed by the government under the scheme.

While labourers were getting 100 days of assured work, norms had been relaxed to award 150 days of work in drought-affected areas, he added.

Panchayat development officers (PDOs) need not stick to the action plan approved, he said, and added that they had been allowed to take up additional work for the effective implementation of the MNREGA.

“There are over 5.21 lakh agricultural labourers in the State. A sum of Rs. 1,162 crore had been spent on various works under the MNREGA in 2012–13,” he detailed.

Vice-president of the sangha G.N. Nagaraj said that if the scheme had been implemented in letter and spirit, over 1 crore landless labourers would have greatly benefitted.

“But the system had reduced them to ‘beggars’ as they have to literally beg to get job card and work under the scheme,” he said. He blamed bureaucrats and politicians for the scheme’s “failure”.

Agricultural labourers were not getting work even after submitting application in the prescribed form. “Dharnas staged by them outside gram panchayat offices had failed to yield any result,” he said.

He alleged that there was an inordinate delay in payment of wages under the scheme, and demanded complete evaluation of the scheme. Authorities had kept works such as de-silting of lakes and irrigation canals out of the purview of the MNREGA owing to pressure from contractors, he alleged.

The sangha submitted a 20-point memorandum to Mr. Vijayabhaskar, detailing problems in MNREGA implementation and solutions to them.

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