Sunday, April 19, 2009

Orissa government: Has it done enough for the poor?

Merinews, April 18, 2009
by pradeep baisakh

The Orissa government has not delivered on NREGS and therefore the ruling party lacks the moral right to ask for votes from rural labourers. It has faltered in terms of providing work and wages to the workers in time.

HAS THE Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government of Orissa led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is now the most popular Chief Minister of the country according to an ‘India Today’ survey, done enough for the poor labourers in the rural patches of the state by way of delivering on NREGS to plead for their votes in the ensuing general and assembly elections?

If you roam around several villages in Lamtaput, Nandpur and Machhkund blocks of Koraput district, you will find people just loitering around and wasting their time. When asked “why are you wasting your time? Do not you have any work available in your village?” The answer you get is a big ‘No’. In several villages like Enugu, Logum, Litiput among others no work under NREGS is available during this lean agricultural season forcing people to migrate or simply stay in the village and do nothing. Recently, thirteen 13 Logum village migrated to do work on railway tracks in Secunderabad.

Collector Gadadhar Parida (recently transferred elsewhere) says “As many as five out of14 blocks of Koraput have no regular BDO. In Lamtaput post office, there are no additional staffs to open passbooks of people for making NREGS related payments.”

After repeatedly asking, Parida with reluctance admits that the block and panchayat level officials are not showing much interest to take up NREGS work after introduction of the bank payment system. It may be noted that the bank payment system under NREGS has almost checked the prevailing PC (percentage cuts) culture (where a fixed percentage of the welfare expenditure is siphoned of by the officials involved in the implementation) existing in the panchayat and block levels. Therefore it obvious that the officials at these levels are demotivated!

During the survey on NREGS conducted in Orissa in October 2007 by G B Pant Institute, Allahabad, it was revealed that as much as 22 percent of the money goes as percentage cuts to the JE, BDO, Sarpanch, VLW, computer operator at the block level and others apart from the percentage that the contractor keeps for himself. The Collector laments “currently we are in a state of under utilisation of funds under NREGS”

Very poor performance in comparison to other states:

In several such districts of the state like Bolangir, Nuapada, Malkanagiri, Nawrangpur, Sundergarh, Ganjam etc where migration is rampant, NREGS has effectively failed check this trend. According to official figures, in the last financial year (2008-09) the total number of house hold provided jobs are meagre 9.4 lakhs as against about 51 lakhs job card holders in the state. Admittedly, all these card holders did not apply for work so not qualified to get job, the plea the government officials generally take- but people not applying for work does not qualify the perception that they are not needy but they are unaware about the demand driven character of NREGS. And the onus to generate awareness lies on the state. A inter state comparison till 5th March 2009, reveals that Orissa has been able to spend only 48.7 per cent to the total allocated fund whereas states like Bihar has done 63 per cent, Chhatisgarh 76 per cent and Jharkhand 63 per cent. Total percentage of work completed by this date is: Bihar-47 per cent, Chhatisgarh-51 per cent and Jharkhand-32 per cent and Orissa-a meagre 6.49 per cent!

Political and administrative will is lacking:

There have also been continuous complaints from different parts of the state about not providing work despite applications. In January, 2008 about 110 job card holders from Hanumal and Hantalput villages of Koraput district reportedly staged a dharana in front of the block office to demand payment of unemployment allowances as they were not provided work in time even after application for the same.

Complaints have also come about non payment and about in surmountable delay in payment of wages under NREGS to the workers. According to reports by the grass root activists, labourers of Hatipokna and other villages under Tentulikhunti block of Navrangpur district did not receive wages for more than five months till February 2009. Provision of compulsory payment of wages through banks and post offices has aggravated the already worsening condition of irregular payment. Though the bank payment system works well in Andhra Pradesh, in Orissa due to involvement of lengthy and cumbersome procedure and due to lack of any serious attempt by the government to streamline the transaction system, the statutory provision of wage payment within 15 days has been being unceremoniously flouted.

The grievance redressal system in the state is in complete disarray. Complaints of the workers lie unattended by the responsible officials at the block, district and state level for months together. A visiting delegation of Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) in November 2007 submitted 20 complaints to the Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Panchayati Raj department of the state. They are yet to be heard.
If this is the situation at the state level, it can well be imagined what the situation would be at the block and district levels. All these have accumulated to create a situation where people have started losing faith on the efficacy of NREGA to address their work need and poverty by consequence. Though distress migration is characterised by inhuman working condition and various forms of exploitation-physical, mental and sexual, with the political and administrative class taking no interest on delivery of NREGA, the people of the state have no option but to go for it.

With this dismal show on providing guaranteed employment to the rural mass, does the government command any moral right to ask for votes from the rural labourers? The government may not actually need to bother much as Umi Daniel of Action Aid puts it “About two lakh migrant workers from western Orissa and more than four lakh from Ganjam district will be completely away from the election in the state!” Yahan honge tabhi to hamare khilap vote de payenge!

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