Monday, 25 May 2020

Despite irregularities in NREGA work Joshi’s Battle For Supremacy

Updated: December 25, 2010 10:27 am

Union Minister for Rural Development, CP Joshi has always emphasised: “The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) has the potential to provide big push in India’s regions of distress. NREGA has brought about a fundamental and visible change in the lives of the rural poor. This scheme has brought a paradigm shift in the project implementation mode of the villages, where it has been tried. This has become possible by replacing the Contractor Raj, which has hitherto dominated rural India with the Panchayat Raj.”

                Joshi has also maintained that NREGA can become an instrument to make individuals self-sufficient and to give an opportunity for development in the panchayats and it could provide food security and improve Human Development Index. Thus, he has managed to get an allotment of Rs 326.92 crore for his home constituency of Bhilwara in southern Rajasthan. It is probably the highest for any district in the country and surely, the highest in any district of Rajasthan. Out of the Rs 1000 crore that the state government has received as grant for NREGA, Rs 326.92 crore have gone to Bhilwara.

                Joshi’s constituency, Bhilwara would receive Rs 22.55 crore as the state government’s share under NREGA. But Joshi has obviously been able to exercise his influence to get such huge fund as a Union Minister.

                The minister of the department and even his detractors feel that anybody in his position as a Union Minister would have used the position to benefit the state. Ever since he became a Union Minister, he has been able to get Rs 1000 crore to Bhilwara through various schemes.

                But Bhilwara has acute drinking water problem and drinking water could be brought only through Chambal river that requires Rs 1200 crore and for this he requires the support of the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. But the Chief Minister and Joshi because of their ideological differences are at loggerheads.

                In political circles, it is said that Joshi has been able to show his strength in the Union government and in the national politics by getting this allotment for Bhilwara, which is known as Rajasthan Manchester and is a big hub of textiles. In political circle, it is said that Joshi has proved that he also has a say in the Union government and the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is not the only person, who has stakes in the national politics.

                Joshi is also the president of the Pradesh Congress Committee and wields both political and administrative power. Joshi has proved his strength as a larger district of Jodhpur that is Chief Minister Gehlot’s home turf has received only Rs 194.10 crore for NREGA, while another Union Minister Sachin Pilot, who is in good books of Joshi, has been able to take away Rs 197.89 crore for his constituency Ajmer.

                Two other Union Ministers from the state, Mahadeo Singh Khandela, who is Union Surface Transport Minister, has managed to get an allotment of Rs 75.68 crore for his constituency Sikar, while Union Minister for State for Finance Namo Narayan Meena got Rs 35 crore allotment for his constituency Sawai Madhopur and the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women Girja Vyas, enjoying the rank of a Cabinet Minister, has got Rs 89.47 crore allotment for her constituency Chittorgarh.

                What is surprising was Bhilwara did not figure in the lists of the districts that excelled in effective implementation of NREGA—there were only two districts—Udaipur and Ajmer—that were awarded excellence awards by the Union Ministry of Rural Development and surely Bhilwara did not figure there.

                “The allotment of funds for NREGA is based on the number of employment that could be provided in the district. It is necessary to provide jobs under NREGA for those seeking jobs. Moreover, in NREGA only 60 per cent of the funds go as wages and 40 per cent is for purchasing building material. Moreover, the funds are given only after the panchayats issue the utility certificate. In my district, NREGA workers represent some of the most economically and socially underprivileged sections of society. Mostly, these workers are undernourished with poor opportunities for healthcare. Moreover, job opportunities at doorsteps would also stop migrations. The funds for Bhilwara were allotted after it met all the required parameters,” said CP Joshi.

                Pradesh Congress Spokesperson Sayendra Singh Raghav said that the fund allotment for Bhilwara was done after Bhilwara fulfilled all the requirements of the fund allotment. “However, why is there a big hue and cry over Bhilwara receiving the highest amount? Joshi as a minister would naturally favour his constituency, it’s nothing unusual. I could tell you that Bhilwara would prove that every paisa that was given to it was justifiably used. I pity at those, who see any politics behind this allotment,” said Raghav.

                The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a body headed by Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy, last year conducted a social audit of NREGA work in Joshi’s Bhilwara constituency. This social audit was undertaken to send a message that even in the constituency of Joshi the fund utilisation under NREGA was not transparent.

                “The Union government has clearly issued directions that all the panchayats should display on its notice boards about the job opportunities in the panchyats. About 1500 activists from all over the country assembled in mineral-rich Bhilwara and went to 11 panchayats to audit the work undertaken under NREGA. What was interesting was that the villagers liked the idea of the social audit as that would make the political workers and the officials accountable. But the sarpanchs and the panchs did not like our endeavour as there were chances of their misdeeds getting exposed. But the people responded very well. Because of the social audit, it was found that Om Prakash Jat was deprived of the job in NREGA without any reason that should have been given to him. We managed to get him a compensation of Rs 4000 for him,” said Nikhil Dey, an activist of MKSS.

                The Bhilwara’s social audit revealed that in 11 panchayats work of Rs 20 crore was undertaken, but there was evidence of corruption worth Rs one crore. But during the social audit people said that the audit programme would help in keeping a check on the panchayats office-bearers and they would be cautious about their misdeeds.

                The social audit of NREGA work is the most important factor as more than Rs 40,000 crore are being spent on the employment scheme. It is necessary to ensure people’s participation in this programme and once there is transparency, it would become an effective poverty alleviation programme, said Aruna Roy chief of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. About 11 FIRs have been lodged in various cases of irregularities in NREGA work and it has been found that the sarpanchs and panchs in Bhilwara floated firms to supply building material for the NREGA work.

                “I am not responsible for the misdeeds of the people during the BJP rule in the state and the guilty should be punished. I was elected from Bhilwara in May last year and am responsible for the job after that period. Social audit is a good work and it should bring good results,” said Joshi.

                The clause of transparency, accountability, social audit etc is applied to all works of the government. But somehow the machinery which incorporated the schemes and works in the past could get only 10 per cent of the work done. It is to be seen how Joshi overcomes the difficulties and succeeds in controlling or improvising the system.

                At least in his own Bhilwara, Rural Development Minister CP Joshi wants Bhilwara to be a “developmental model” for the rest of the country. The ministry has poured nearly Rs 300 crore into the area, making sure it receives a concentrated dose of all the government schemes on offer, fine-tuning their application and ensuring that they work perfectly in sync—from NREGA to the rural livelihoods mission, the backward region grant fund and more. In short, Bhilwara will be a Petri dish of government largesse. All fringe benefits to Joshi, whose constituency it is, are purely coincidental. The electoral fray is Joshi’s natural element—he is widely credited with the Congress’s surprising and satisfying win of 19 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats across Rajasthan. Though he stewarded the party’s state unit to victory, Joshi gave one-man, one-vote a whole new meaning when he lost out on chief ministership by a single vote. That psychological blow probably explains why Joshi is leaving nothing to chance this time, lavishing attention on his capricious constituency and keeping his own interests paramount even as rural development minister. And indeed, rural development is a grand bag of patronage opportunities, there’s something for everyone. The rest of India is not so lucky!

                While Joshi is certainly not the first politician in power to tend his constituency like a fragile plant, what’s particularly dissembling is the way he claims Bhilwara could show the rest of the country how it’s done. In fact, it would be misleading and inaccurate if these interventions feed into larger conclusions about the schemes themselves. Pilot projects must necessarily be randomly assigned, for any meaningful evaluation. So let’s just call it what it is: an exercise in favour-mongering, narrow politics-as-usual.

By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur

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