Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005 is going to prove once again to be a new lifeline for migrant workers as the Uttar Pradesh government has envisaged to create 5 million jobs per day under the scheme giving it a major thrust. Massive inflow of migrants into the Uttar Pradesh due to loss of jobs during lockdown has brought the spotlight on resultant unemployment of a big workforce in already overstressed state on this front.
State government anticipates enhancement of MGNREGA jobs from the current tally of 2.63 million to 5 million a day. The ill-fated scheme has seen so many ups and downs with big scams and involvement and connivance of high-profile bureaucrats to usurp hard-earned public funds allocated for various rural development projects during the rules of BSP, SP and now BJP. Even the High Court monitored CBI investigations could not see the light of trials due to non-availability of prosecution sanction stuck in bureaucratic somersaulting despite big claims of zero tolerance on corruption by present regime.
The unprecedented flood of migrant workers to their native villages in Uttar Pradesh would cost heavily on the economic growth of rich states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab. The government is well conscious of the facts that it has to face the real brunt of the influx in terms of heavy loss in the industrial, infrastructural, real estate and agriculture sectors. The migrant workers used to be lifeline of these states for production, infrastructural and industrial development who have deserted experiencing extremely difficult for their survival without food and money.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an additional funding of 40,000 crore to the MGNREGA schemes over and above the Budgetary Estimate. Soon after the lockdown the Central government had already released payment of 1538,29 as 1st instalment of 1st tranche of Central Assistance Grants-in-aid for financial year 2020-21 towards wage component to the state which has earmarked 8400 crore for the current fiscal year. Under recently announced additional special package the state anticipates to get around 5800 crores more than earlier allocation. The state government transferred 225.39 crore to clear pending wages of the beneficiaries of the MGNREGA schemes through direct bank transfer.
An overenthusiastic chief minister Adityanath recently interacted with district administration officials of Saharanpur, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Kannauj and Hardoi districts through a video conference. The officials informed the CM about various projects under MGNREGS in their districts. “We should aim to provide jobs to 5 million people every day by the end of May. We can do this only if the officials perform their duty honestly. We need to provide jobs to those who have returned home due to lockdown in other states,” chief minister cautioned officials during the video conference.
The state bureaucracy is busy in designing an integrated action plan for village level skill mapping of migrant workers for providing them suitable employment under various flagship schemes launched under MGNREGA, ODOP, Nurseries MSME, Women Self Help Groups, food processing and cow shelters, milk cooperatives.
“Current economic measures announced by the Modi Government should also include immediate monetary plan so that at least migrants get purchasing power in their hands which will create demand and eventually supply which will boost the economy,” advised former IAS Narendra Nath Verma who has vast experience in the field of Rural Development and MSME sectors. Mr Verma was instrumental in conceiving plan and acquisition of land at the time of creation of NOIDA industrial area as a hub of integrated industrial growth.
The 2011 census records show that the Hindi heartland states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh contribute for 50 percent of India’s total interstate migrants. The UP remained the biggest source of out-migrants as together with Bihar account for 37 percent. So experts feel that desperate migrant workers will never muster courage to go back there after their terrific horrifying and tragic experiences due to sudden lockdown that forced them to walk on the roads finding no other way of survival. A new trend of demographical changes would emerge in upcoming census exercise next year.
The UP expect home coming of around 2.2 to 2.5 million migrant workers with different skill abilities. It intend to have a pool database about potential skills in them as it eyes on development of MSME sector rapidly and work force could be easily identified according to their needs. “The reverse migration has thrown up a fresh challenge to the state government and its plan to generate jobs in MSMEs may not be easy task as most units comprise micro or cottage units which do not depend on hired labour,” feels former director of Giri Institute of Developmental Studies, Prof Ajit Kumar Singh. “MGNREG schemes could generate potential job opportunities and need liberalised activities under it like it could create self-help groups of males on the pattern of women for a particular activity,” he added stressing more central funding in MGNREGA visualising the quantum of reverse migration.
The deep-rooted corruption and fiscal anomalies have always been a grave cause of concern to check misuse of hard earned tax payers’ money. The Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court had directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 31st January 2014 to investigate the abuse and misappropriation of fund as well as the abuse of power under MGNREGA schemes with regard to seven districts of state including Balrampur, Gonda, Mahoba, Sonbhadra, Sant Kabir Nagar, Mirzapur and Kushinagar during the years 2007 to 2010 with appropriate action and prosecution in accordance with law on a PIL filed by Sachchidanand Gupta (Sachchey).
The court intervened in the matter when state government paid no heed to central Rural Development Minister Jai Ram Ramesh’s request for according its consent for a CBI probe in misappropriation of MGNREGA funds and high-level bureaucratic collusion detected by State Quality Monitor (SQM) report submitted by Sanjay Dixit, member of Central Employment Guarantee Council. The outcome of CBI investigations could not result in deterrent punishment as small flies were made easy escape goats whereas big-wigs are enjoying fruits of power. Some block and district level officers were suspended. The criminal trial did not commence ahead unless state government grants sanction under Section 197 Cr. PC. for prosecution which is an essential legal requirement for a bureaucrat.
There are scores of cases across the state, where the village chiefs and the staff have connived to siphon off the money earmarked for civic improvement or any other purpose by submitting the fake documents or completion certificate. The police reluctance in dealing with the local politicians is natural. It has been observed during the past two decades, that these so-called local leaders or activists shift their loyalties with the change of regime.
The eastern Uttar Pradesh had emerged as the new political bastion of BJP dominance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath. Deoria district under Gorakhpur commissionaire is just 206 kilometres away from Varanasi and just 51 kilometres from Gorakhpur, the respective constituencies of PM Modi and CM Yogi where rampant corruption and misappropriation of funds in MGNREGA schemes has been reported to police but political interference has crippled fair investigation and arrests of scam accused persons.
On the directives of a young Chief Development Officer Shivasharanappa GN, the Deputy Commissioner Employment, Gajendra Kumar Tiwari recently lodged an FIR in Bankata police station under section 471,468,467,420,419 and 409 of IPC against 20 persons including nine village pradhans, six Village Secretaries, five Technical Assistants. FIR revealed grave charges of fabrication of false documents and misappropriation of funds of MGNREGA schemes. On the basis of an enquiry conducted on spot by seven member team found that duplicate payments were made for earlier completed works years back with the connivance of Village Pradhans, Village Secretaries and Technical assistants.
Though Block Development Officer has been entrusted with the duty to make physical verification of work on the site before making payments but he has been spared in the FIR lodged about scam. The government released an amount of 1.70 Crores for 44 village panchayats but complaints from just 6 village panchayats. Police has not arrested the accused but officials the MGNREGA schemes were suspended including an acting BDO/Assistant Engineer and facing departmental action.
Earlier in July 2018, an FIR has been lodged against Shiv Kumari Devi- wife of the Samajwadi Party (SP) district unit head Ram Iqbal Yadav– along with secretary gram panchayat Ram Pratap Singh, The accused were booked and sent to jail along with one other for allegedly embezzling funds meant for the construction of toilets in a village. In 2013-2014, Pakaha village under Patherdeva block was declared a Lohia village under which over 49 lakh were sanctioned to build 1082 toilets at the rate of 4600 per toilet.
Deoria district adjoins its borders with neighbouring state Bihar under most lucrative police station Bankata which has been in the spotlight of smuggling of liquor to Bihar where total prohibition on its sale has been imposed by Nitish Kumar’s government like Gujarat. Recently police recovered large consignment of various brands of liquor during checking at Bihar boarder in SUV No UP 52 AR 9999 with a pass issued for carrying essential commodities in lockdown areas. The local SDM and police circle officers were also present on the spot with some media teams.
Videos went viral on social media show direct involvement of an influential local Block Pramukh Mantu Singh alias Rajesh Singh who was sitting inside with Satendra Singh and Vikas Yadav in full public view during checking and recovery of liquor in the vehicle but despite registering a case under violation of UP Excise Act and Disaster Management Act 2005, but strong political pressure compelled the Bankata police to set him free on bail bond with full honour and dignity instead of sending him behind the bars. The PRO DG Police UP remained tight-lipped over the incident when Tehelka questioned how accused were given such a VIP treatment in heinous crime liquor smuggling at the police station? No updates were provided.
In Machilishahar of Jaunpur district one BDO Rajan Rai has filed a case against three employees posted in the block development office, accusing him of fraudulently grabbing 70.45 lakhs of the MNREGA scheme. Police arrested the three accused. It is alleged that Clerk Shakeel Ahmed Ansari, Accounts Assistant Surya Kumar and Computer Operator Mahendra Kumar posted in the office of the block changed the account to be sent to another account in the account of the village employment servants. Thus, by creating a code, they committed fraud of grabbing public money. Kotwali police have registered a case under Section 409, 419, 420, 467, 468, 469, 471 of IPC on BDO’s complaint and investigation is going on after arrests.
It is yet to be ascertained that how many village chiefs in UP have migrated to the BJP from other political outfits, whether it is BSP of Mayawati or Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party to be reborn with honesty. The process of ablution is continuing to keep the law enforcing agency to keep off from these new soldiers of the ruling outfit. In such an atmosphere where corruption has become an order of the day to day functioning, UP chief minister Yogi Aditynath has a rough and tough road ahead to achieve positive results in a most challengeable area of concern where lot of hopes of employment generation are focused.