Government’s ambitious rural employment project Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which today said money was not reaching real beneficiaries and in many cases, going to wrong hands.
“There is no uniform policy. The money is not reaching actual beneficiaries,” a Bench comprising Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and B. S. Chauhan said.
The Bench, which expressed concern over the implementation of MGNREGA said several projects under the scheme are failing as the funds allocated for them either remain unutilised or in many cases money lands up in wrong hands.
“There has been distribution of money. But in many cases, it is going to wrong persons and real beneficiaries do not receive the cash,” the Bench said.
It said money under MGNREGA is not an ex-gratia payment as people in villages are assured that money is guaranteed in lieu of the work performed by them.
“There should be some real development at the ground level,” the Bench said while highlighting the purpose of MGNREGA for the success of which the CJI has taken keen interest in the last couple of years.
“The CJI himself has taken keen interest in MGNREGA and taken initiatives in organising seminars on it,” Justice Verma said.
The Bench, which was hearing the petition filed by an NGO, Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS), seeking proper utilisation of the funds allocated under the Act, appreciated the efforts of its advocate Mayank Mishra who placed before it some suggestions for effective utilisation of funds for the projects.
The Bench said the advocate can formulate further suggestions and State governments can respond to them within four weeks so that some order can be passed.
The apex court was told that while some States in the North-Eastern region and Andhra Pradesh have done a good job for the implementation of the rural employment scheme, others are far behind.
Pointing out that most of the States have failed to put in place the details as to conduct of social auditing, Mr. Mishra suggested all relevant documents, including that of funds allocated and the complete files of works undertaken, be placed at the Gram Panchayat office for its inspection.
The advocate also suggested the entire proceedings of the Social Audit Forum/public hearing be videographed to ensure integrity and credibility of the process.
“The provision of unemployment allowance is part and parcel of the MGNREGA but most of the State governments are denying it on one or the other pretext,” he said adding there was inordinate delay in the payment of wages and due compensation is not being paid.
The PIL filed in 2007 alleged the project, which was implemented in September 2005 with a view to providing 100 days of guaranteed employment to at least one member of each rural household, suffers from large-scale corruption and mismanagement.
The NGO contended that various organisations, including CEFS, conducted a field study on the working of the Employment Guarantee Act which reveals that the scheme under the Act is not working as it has been marred by corruption due to non-transparency of the implementation of the scheme and entry of private contractors who are banned under the Act.
The NGO had earlier submitted that the District Collector/District Magistrate should be made responsible for effective implementation of the project.
The study shows “most of the funds allocated for the implementation of the Act and schemes do not reach the intended recipients and are instead siphoned off by corrupt officials and contractors denying lakhs of poor people their fundamental right to livelihood.”