Starting April 1st, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which provides at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment to every household whose adult members volunteer to work on labour-intensive public works annually, will be implemented in all 604 districts across India. Unfortunately, though the program looks good on paper, even its most vociferous proponents will admit that it is riddled with potential for corruption and further exploitation of the rural poor it intends to serve.
To further complicate the situation, because the population the scheme intends to serve is largely illiterate, holding local panchayats or district officials accountable for misappropriated government funds is difficult. The process is bureaucratic and entirely in the hands of the local panchayats (village-level governance) and district officials, which subjects rural recipients to the vagaries of human error and (mis)judgment. Essentially, here is how the process works:
Adult members of rural households submit their name, age and address with photo to the Gram Panchayat. The Gram panchayat registers households after making enquiry and issues a job card. The job card contains the details of adult member enrolled and his /her photo. The registered person can submit an application for work in writing (for at least fourteen days of continuous work) either to panchayat or to Programme Officer.
If employment under the scheme is not provided within fifteen days of receipt of the application daily unemployment allowance will be paid to the applicant.
Can you imagine how susceptible this process is to fraud in the 330 districts it is currently in operation? Even the government understood the NREGA’s shortcomings prior to the implementation of the scheme, as confirmed by an evaluation conducted by Tata Consulting Services of a similar scheme in Maharashtra: (more after the break…)
Through their 6-month long study into Maharashtra’s three-decade-old rural job guarantee programme — the blueprint for the Rs 40,000 crore national programme passed months later by Parliament — Rao’s team [from Tata Consultancy Services] found officials and politicians inflating work bills, faking wages and pocketing funds.
He says: “The scheme is essentially a series of human transactions, each racked by corruption.”
Unfortunately, this trend has continued, even after the passage of NREGA. In fact, in the villages of Andhra Pradesh, research found that over 1,000 crore of NREGA allocated funds were misappropriated by government officials and grassroots politicians.
In an attempt to combat such fraud, the leaders of the TATA Consultancy Services created software that accounts for every rupee intended for the target population in AP. Here is how the process has been working so far:
Today, computers placed in every mandal, and not officials, issue job cards to families, throw up work estimates for close to 70 different types of works on the basis of a pre-fed set of parameters, and generate each worker’s pay slip.
By placing all this online (www.nrega.ap.gov.in), battling authorities for information is unnecessary. Payments are being made into postal accounts created for lakhs of villagers. The state had fewer than 6 lakh accounts till 2005. Today the number touches 70 lakh, and authorities are being forced to strengthen the postal infrastructure so that it can take on its new job.
As a result of this simple technology, the state of AP has been able to recover over Rs. one crore in misappropriated funds. This money is now going back into the hands of hard-working people like Chandra Rao, 55, who is able to earn 90-100 rupees / day as a result of the program.
One crore may not seem like much, but it is certainly a start.
Source: OneWorld South Asia
Filed under: Approaches, Basic Rights, Employment, Government, Grassroots Initiatives, Issues, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology Tagged: | Andhra Pradesh, anti-corruption software, national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS)