Activist groups and labourers from Buldhana and Aurangabad districts allege that large scale irregularities took place in the programme

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi wakes up early every day, packs her lunch, and joins other daily-wage laborers in Pathari tehsil, 90 km away from her home. The young girl could have been studying in class seven this year, had her father Pralhad Shyamaji Kokate not killed himself last year.

“My husband was completely shattered,” says Lakshmi’s mother Sangita, who lives in Titavi village in Buldhana district. Both husband and wife worked in Sillod tehsil of Aurangabad district under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for more than two years, but didn’t get paid. With debts piling up, Sangita was left with no option but to send her daughter to work.

Pralhad was not alone. Five others — Dattu Maghade, Changunabai Gajanan Dakhore of Titavi village; Amruta Gore, Madhav Sonaji Raut of Gotra village in Lonar tehsil of Buldhana district; and Digamber Sukhdev Vyavhare of Dhagi Borgaon village in Jalana district killed themselves in the last year, allegedly due to non-payment of wages.

Saved by family

Sunita Tukaram Walke of village Jogwada in Jintur tehsil of Parbhani district tried to kill herself on June 23, but her family members managed to save her.

People, mostly from the Aandh tribal community, migrate in large numbers from Lonar tehsil post monsoon to neighbouring districts in search of work.

“Six members of our family worked in Sillod for more than two years but we did not get paid. They would give us a meagre amount on a market day once a week” says Gajanan, the elder son of Dattu, who now has seven mouths to feed and debt of Rs. 2.5 lakh.

Activist groups and labourers from Buldhana and Aurangabad district allege that large scale irregularities have taken place in the UPA’s flagship programme.

Erratic wage distribution

Wage distribution, which was persistently erratic from 2009 to 2012, resulted in non-payment of Rs. 13 crore to 1119 labourers from Titavi, Gotra and nearby villages in Buldhana district who worked under the MGNREGS in 19 villages of Sillod.

“First of all, labourers from Buldhana, Jalana and Parbhani district were engaged in the MGNREGS work in Aurangabad district. This in itself is an irregularity as it is illegal under the MGNREGS to hire migrants as it denies opportunities to the local labourers. Next, they were not paid for work they did for more than two years. Bogus job cards and post office accounts were created and only God knows where the money meant for labourers went,” said Yunis Pathan, Sillod Taluka Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who has been petitioning the government for the tribal people’s cause.

In a series of letters written to the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Aurangabad district officials and police officials, Rajan Kshirsagar, the Parbhani district secretary of the CPI and Mr. Pathan, have alleged large scale irregularities in MGNREGS and demanded strict action against the then Aurangabad collector Sanjeev Jaiswal.

“It all started with a letter of authority given to a contractor, Tukaram Uttam Navale, on January 12, 2009 by the then Aurangabad collector Sanjeev Jaiswal, authorising Mr.Navale to carry out registration of labourers for work to be done under the MGNREGS,” said Mr. Kshirsagar .

In a letter written to the Chief Minister earlier this year, Mr. Kshirsagar and Mr. Pathan said, “During year 2009-10 and 2010-11, 1119 tribal laborers from Sengaon, Mantha, Jintur and other villages in Lonar tehsiland neighboring districts were engaged in different kinds of work under the MGNREGS in Borgaon Sarvani, Bahuli, Vadod, Charanewadi, Talani, Digras,Takali, Jambhai, Korada Tanda, Adharwadi, Sirsar villages in Sillod tehsil. But the labourers were paid meagre amounts for their work. Some top district officials with some contractors and middlemen, siphoned off money meant for the labourers.”

Mr. Kshirsagar also demanded that an FIR be registered against some of the top district officials posted in Aurangabad when these irregularities took place.

“My husband, my two sons and I worked in Sillod but they would pay some Rs. 200 to 300 on a market day. We got only Rs. 9700 for the work done for a period of more than two years,” said Parvati, wife of Dattu Madhade.

“Navale did make some job cards but we don’t have them with us. The job cards were fake. If my photo is there, then the name on job card would be that of my neighbour,” said Prabhakar Tanpure of Titavi.

Inquiry

An inquiry was ordered by Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil on March 26, 2012, after protests by labourers and members of Maharashtra State Lalbatawa Khet Majdoor Union, a body affiliated to the CPI, in early 2012.

The eight-member inquiry committee headed by Mr. Lamgore, the Additional Zilla parishad Chief Executive Officer , Aurangabad, submitted its report to the Collector.

Mr. Lamgore, who admitted to not visiting the villages where the labourers worked, said only the Collector was the authority competent enough to speak on this issue.

Aurangabad Collector Vikram Kumar said the inquiry committee found 38 people guilty for non-payment of wages. “Nineteen Gramsevaks and 19 Sarpanchs of those 19 villages where the work was done were found guilty and action has been taken against them. As far as non-payment of wages to the labourers is concerned, the inquiry committee found that around Rs. six lakh was not paid. We have paid the remaining wages. There are no irregularities or wrongdoings in the MGNREGS work in Aurangabad and there is no accusation against any of our officials,” Mr. Kumar told The Hindu.

When asked about the accusation of fake job cards, the Collector said that an FIR had been registered against Mr. Navale in Sillod police station.

Aurangabad Superintendent of Police Ishu Sindhu confirmed that “there are 100 per cent irregularities in this.” Maharashtra EGS minister Nitin Raut said he had no idea about the alleged scam or irregularities, “but now that you have asked me regarding this issue, I will definitely ask my officers about it.”

Repeated calls and messages to Sarita Satrave, the Deputy Collector and in-charge of EGS scheme in Aurangabad, and Sanjeeve Jaisawal, who is now the Divisional Commissioner of Aurangabad division, from The Hindu, went unattended and ignored.