Thursday, October 24, 2013

Visit for Social Audit of NREGS

NREGA funds are used for natural resource management activities by generating wage employment for the poor as well as strengthening their livelihood resource base. I will ask readers to go through these two articles :[ Rural job scheme: Can we get it right? and NREGA social Audit: Myths and Reality ] on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) before going forward.

There is social audit of MNREGS going on in Balangir district from 22-10-2013 to 26-10-2013. I attended three such meetings as an observer only. I attended social audit at Kutenpali, Jharmunda and Kandajuri Gram Panchayat of Loisingha Block. Loisingha Block consist of 18 G.Ps with 108 Villages and is 22 km away from district headquarter. The officers, Sarpanch and GRS were present for the meeting on time. Yet, there was lack of people attending the meeting held at Panchayat Bhavan. The registered person data is taken from NREGA website for the financial year 2013-2014. I have given distance from Block Office to show their remote locality.

G.P.Distance from Block OfficeRegistered   In Meeting  
Kutenpali7 Km6741899107682340400
Jharmunda12 Km6611686983703000
Kandajuri15 Km4571075596479770

Key Findings -

1. There were people keeping themselves busy in a game of cards but were unaffected by any meeting. This attitude of local people was fatal to their own development. Hence, all the blame of failure of government scheme can't be solely put on the state. The lack of participation of the local population was making the whole event into a flop show.

2. GP with 40 people was considered as success by block office. It was later told that such low attendance of 5-10 people without any local NGO participation is prevalent in another block of Balangir district. With the support of community based organization, the number of participants can rise upto 80-100 maximum.

3. There was notice attached to the Panchayat office but no meetings were held on the importance of social audit. Adding to this limited communication, effective strategy of rural communication through vocal was also utterly discarded by the government. Neither NGO nor any community organization was used for mobilizing the public.

4. Land development through individual project is equally good option with community project in the remote location. Due to hilly terrain and poor connectivity, there is greater participation in NREGS in backward GPs. Most of the people working as labour in NREGS are tribal and BPL card holders.

5. The Gram Panchayat must own the data it collects; Information is a basic tool for planning. Information relevant to each area like population, Infrastructure and natural resources database is rarely available for use. Even NREGA data is available on the internet yet not available to common man in the village. Virtual transparency may give temporary relief to the government officials, whereas the reality is that villagers have to meander through a cobweb of data to search and find what they are looking for.

6. Surplus labor used in NREGS can generate productive assets that can be eco-friendly in nature. The asset base of the poor both individual (for example, Land leveling, reclamation of soil, bunding, constructing small ponds) as well as collective assets (for example, regeneration of common lands, water harvesting structures, group irrigation facilities etc) can be strengthen through this scheme. Migration of unskilled labors can't be stopped with virtually 30-40 days of the work.

In NREGA, government officials and PRI members had used fraud measures like “creating fake muster rolls, inflated bills, exaggerated measurements, and non-existent works, all through bribes and cuts from wage seekers" to make money. What need of hour is social audit, best tool we have for monitoring using community participation to curb such fraud activities. Development from design is not primarily about selecting right people for the job. It is about setting of right processes, standards and procedures followed with continuous adherence to it. I will end with the words of Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International - : 'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'

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