|New Delhi, DNA, April 6: The corpse of Bengali Singh was burned to ash atop a funeral pyre in 2006.Five years later, the dead man was recorded as being paid under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to dig a canal in Bishanpur in Godda district of Jharkhand.|
Officials in his village and the surrounding region used at least 500 identities, including those of a physically-challenged child and a 94-year-old blind man, to fake work logs and to steal wages, according to police reports.
District administrators and village heads across the country have used tactics such as ghost workers, fake projects and over-billing to embezzle about Rs55,000 crore from the world’s largest workfare initiative, an investigation by Bloomberg News shows. Only 42-56% of the employment reported by the jobs programme is confirmed by data from the national sample survey office, a joint study by Princeton University and the Paris School of Economics shows. That suggests that about half the work is genuine.
|The Union rural development ministry also estimates 30% of the Rs1.8-lakh crore spent nationally since the programme began has been lost through graft.|
Embezzlement remains an intractable issue in the rural employment push, said D H Pai Panandiker, president of the RPG Foundation, an economic research group.
“The bulk of the spending is a complete waste of money.”
Bloomberg compiled hundreds of pages of police documents and interviewed dozens of people from January through March across three states to examine the looting in the flagship welfare programme.
The police are probing more than 2,000 cases of corruption spanning 100 projects in just one district of Jharkhand.
They include funds for a well to be used by only one landowner and payments toward an irrigation canal that was never constructed. Dry eart h covers the area where the channel was supposed to be.
At least 60% of the expenditure in Jharkhand under the NREGA has been pilfered, said Nishikant Dubey, a BJP MP from Godda. That amounts to more than Rs630 crore in the last fiscal alone.
“It’s happening everywhere.” I keep telling my officials that this is money for the poor. So, please don’t steal from it, but they don’t listen,” he said.
About 30% of India’s 16.8 crore rural households have been provided with employment under the initiative each year since 2008.
The scam in Godda used fake job cards to claim wages for imaginary labour, according to the police report.
One of the identities stolen was of 94-year-old Akal Sah, who is deaf and blind and uses a stick to walk.
The records of the jobs programme have Sah spending eight hours a day for a week in 2011, shovelling earth from a pit. One of his co-workers was a physically-challenged eight-year-old child, Suvitha Devi. Frail and malnourished, Dev i struggles to lift her right arm or speak clearly after a bout of meningitis at an early age.
The police accused Ghulam Rasool and his wife, Zubeida Khatoon, the village headwoman, of orchestrating the fraud in Bishanpur.
Post-office workers created the job cards and a village secretary and a computer operator also aided the scam, according to the charges.
The charge sheet says the pair ordered postal staff to withdraw money in the name of dead or fake workers. False finger and thumbprints were used in payment receipts to enable the fraud. -Bloomberg
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