By Taramani and James*
Jharkhand government has decided to form Adivasi Vikas Samitis in all scheduled villages and Gram Vikas Samitis in non-scheduled ones. Schemes such as ponds, wells and so on upto Rs. five lakhs will be implemented through these committees. The traditional heads in PESA villages and Gram Panchayat Mukhiyas will be special invitees in the committees. The Panchayat Sewak has to get them formed through ‘Aam Sabhas’. And these committees will function under the administrative and financial authority of the Block Development Officer.
It is amply clear that this policy violates constitutional provisions of PESA and Jharkhand Panchayati Raj act. To activate the policy, the secretary of the rural development department has written to his officers to amend provisions of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Implementation of MGNREGA schemes through these committees is a violation of the legal provisions of the Act. The MGNREGA stipulates that at least 50 per cent of the total funds is to be spent through the Gram Panchayats. All schemes are to be selected only by the Gram Sabhas. It must be mentioned that, currently in Jharkhand, almost all MGRNEGA schemes are implemented through the Gram Panchayats and most of them are less than Rs. five lakhs. As a result of this decision of the government, all such schemes can now be implemented through the committees. This will make the role of Gram Panchayats negligible in MGNREGA.
The Act also clearly prohibits implementation of schemes through contractors. There is little doubt that contractors will rule the roost in the names of these committees. Recently at a divisional conclave of the Bhartiya Janata Party, Chief Minister Raghuvar Das told the party cadres to form the committees in their villages. He also assured them that the local administration will provide administrative recognition to the committees formed by them.
MGNREGA is a lifeline for the lakhs of workers of the state. But violations of their entitlements are regular affair. In most of the villages, the workers are waiting for adequate number of schemes to be implemented. In the last three years, households that managed to get work under MGNREGA could get only an average of 40 days of work per year. In April 2018, MGNREGA employment was the lowest compared to the corresponding month in the last three years. The participation of Adivasi and Dalit workers in MGNREGA employment fell from almost 50 per cent to 38 per cent in the last three years.
In the last two years, job cards of more than three lakh households were deleted in the “jobcard verification drive” of the government. It also includes cards of several households that regularly work in MGNREGA or want work. As a result, such households are unable to access their right to work.
Getting wages on time is still a dream for workers in Jharkhand. According to a recent study, in 2017-18, at least 30 per cent of wage payments was not made on time. It is now common for workers to not receive their wages on time due to various issues related to Aadhaar such as incorrect bank account linked to their Aadhaar, ‘invalid Aadhaar’ and so on.
In 2015-16, the state government undertook Yojana Banao Abhiyan with much fanfare. But most of the schemes selected by Gram Sabhas in the Abhiyan are yet to be implemented. After the Abhiyan, the government gave targets of certain schemes such as dobha and toilets to the local administration.
Instead of redressing these gross violations of workers’ entitlements, the government is now planning to hand over MGNREGA to contractors. Rather than strengthening the Gram Panchayats – local governments elected by people – the state government is trying to strengthen the control of the bureaucrats and the BJP.
At least 25 per cent of positions of MGNREGA functionaries are lying vacant. Only one-third of the total Gram Panchayats have their own Panchayat Secretaries. And even now, most of the Gram Panchayats lack functional digital infrastructure. It directly affects the implementation of MGRNEGA.
Jharkhand NREGA Watch protests against the decision of the Jharkhand government to form Adivasi/Gram Vikas Samitis and the intentions to amend MGNREGA. It demands that the government immediately withdraws this decision. It should focus on strengthening Gram Panchayats and ensuring rights of MGNREGA workers.
*Jharkhand NREGA Watch. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org