Recently, social audits have been completed in around 75 Panchayats of Berasia block in mid-February. Barasia block is 40-50 km away from the capital city of Bhopal, yet it takes more than 2-3 hours on bad and dusty roads. That limits reach of the monitoring officials in villages. Moreover, Bhopal district is more or less an urban district, as a result rural part of the district get least attention.
To our utter surprise, investment of MGNREGS in the villages is as high as one crore in a single Panchayat. Most of the investment is in construction of wells on private land. Land is expensive and water availability will enhance the rate further. Who got these wells- the poor? Each well construction costs more than Rs. 2 lakh. If you wish to have a well after fulfilling required eligibility, invest first your personal resources and later Panchayat will reimburse when payment is received. Those who can afford to spend at least Rs. 50,00 upfront, can think of getting a well. There are several cases where required material was not provided to the beneficiary. Many of them had to use their own money to buy material and hire services from the market taking loan on high interest rate.
The job cards are found with the Sarpanch or Secretary to fill attendance of fake workers and claim for excavation using machines. The poor labourers get limited work opportunity or paid small token money for use of their job cards. The poor raised issue of poor performance of the PDS, 5-6 months’ pendency in transfer of old age or widow pension.
In one of the Panchayat, a road was approved for a particular ward, however, it was constructed in other ward deliberately. It was shown completed which meant that physical survey had been done by the engineers. The villagers have been complaining for a long time with no response. The annual participatory plans were not prepared therefore participation of the people is limited in implementation of MGNREGS. There is immense possibility of plantation and watershed related works on common lands which has not been explored.
The machinery was not interested to get the social audits conducted. Deliberately, time and date of Gram Sabha meeting was not provided to the Gram Sabha members. Records were not provided to the Village Social Audit Facilitators. As a result, attendance in Gram Sabha meetings was low with least number of women members.
The larger question is- whether a programme which is self-selecting the poor due to manual hard work, is gradually becoming a scheme for those who have resources to invest? Will high expenditure be justified in Panchayats near the state capital as opposed to many districts having severe drought conditions?