In nearly three years, the office of the Ombudsman of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) in the district has received just 113 complaints of malpractice and violations, indicating a low level of awareness about the redressal system in the scheme.
With 14,802 persons receiving employment under the scheme last financial year, it is surprising to see that just 22 complaints had been registered; and considering that more than 58,000 people have worked under the scheme, the complaints represent less than 0.2 per cent of the total work force.
Does this mean that the MNREGS has worked in letter and spirit here? “Compared to other districts, Dakshina Kannada has lesser misappropriation in the scheme. But, there is misappropriation, and it’s not coming to the fore,” said Somanath Nayak, president of the Nagarika Seva Trust, Guruvanyanakere. He said workers were under the impression that complaints to the Ombudsman involve a lot of time and effort. “Instead, panchayat-level redressal systems would attract more complaints,” he said.
Even though the Ombudsman’s office has conducted 419 awareness programmes in the past three years, Krishna Moolya, Director of the NGO Jana Shikshana Trust, said there was little awareness about the functioning of the office at the grass-roots level. “There is lack of information about the intricacies of the scheme and the role of the Ombudsman among the workers. Because of this, violations continue undetected,” he said.
Seena Shetty, District Ombudsman, said more often than not, the office has to contact the workers on the field to coax them into filing complaints. A case in point is the 62 workers undertaking projects worth Rs. 7 lakh in Munnur and Yedapadavu gram panchayats. Because of the delay in the implementation of the Electronic Funds Management System, the workers have not received their daily wage of Rs. 174. It was only when the Ombudsman took up the matter that a complaint was filed, he said.
“The scheme rules say social audit committees should be set up at the gram panchayat level, while Vigilance and monitoring committees should be set up by the workers. These are only in name and not implemented in full,” said Mr. Shetty, adding that students should be roped in to spread awareness of the scheme.
According to statistics furnished by the Ombudsman’s office, all of the cases were filed against government officials: 36 against Panchayat Development Officers, 18 against taluk-level officials, 16 against panchayat secretaries and three against village-level government officials.
A total of Rs. 21.11 lakh has been recovered, while Rs. 72,000 has been imposed as fine on 55 people. Even with misappropriation topping the list at 25 complaints, only warnings have been issued, and no criminal complaint has been filed to avoid lengthy legal procedure.