Amidst the COVID crisis when daily wage earners are worst hit hard due to COVID-19 lockdown and every penny counts Manipur’s culture of robbery of public money from public works continue in broad daylight.
Many job card holders breathed a sigh of relief to know that their daily wages for the jobs done under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) schemes were credited to their bank accounts very recently. However, one job card holder of Imphal West district who is afraid to disclose his name was shocked when he was asked to return Rupees 3000 out of Rs. 3500 credited to his account by a member of his Gram Panchayat.
Meanwhile, in recognition of the State Government’s persistent efforts to help the ease problems of rural people during lockdown to fight COVID-19, Union Ministry of Rural Development has released around Rs. 952.32 crore during the past two weeks. This amount included Rs. 214.75 crore which was released on March 23 as second instalment for the previous fiscal 2019-20.
For the current financial year, the Union Ministry of Rural Development has released on April 4 as first instalment of Rs 737.56 crore out of which, the State Finance Department has released Rs 515.40 crore. The State’s matching share of Rs 25 crore too has been released.
Out of the Rs 515.40 crore released by the Finance Department, Rs 263 crore are meant for payment of last financial year’s liability for 22 days’ wages. The remaining Rs 252.39 crore are meant for paying 10 days’ wages for the current financial year. This amount would be distributed to districts, and job card holders will be benefited.
Rs. 952.32 crore is a huge amount, constituting about 5 percent of the state’s annual budget. If it is utilised properly and works done sincerely by the Gram Panchayats, Zila Parishads, Line departments and job card holders their villages and livelihoods can be developed sustainably, L Ramesh, State Nodal Officer of MGNREGA Funds, Manipur told FPSJ Review.
Despite the fact that the government has repeatedly appealed to all Gram Panchayat Pradhans accountable for proper utilisation of funds allotted under the MGNREGA and other schemes, there are reports of bungling in the funds and swindling of wages of job card holders.
Some job card holders of Ward No. 3 and 4 of Bamon Kampu Gram Panchayat of Imphal East District expressed that the bank accounts of all the job card holders have been changed from UCO Bank situated at Thangal Bazar to Porompat Branch of Manipur State Co-operative Bank without their knowledge. Suspicion over this act is that the members and Pradhan are trying to take away their wages.
Taking serious note of the reports that some Pradhans, and Gram Panchayat Members have been scheming to swindle wages of MGNREGA workers in cahoots with some bank officials, RD&PR Minister Thongam Bishwajit has asserted through media that befitting action would be initiated if the reports are found to be true.
State Nodal Officer, L Ramesh told FPSJ Review that steps have been taken up to inquire into the case of change of bank from UCO Bank to Manipur State Co-operative Bank. Some actions can be taken up after enquiring both the banks.
On the other hand, there is a need to look into works claimed as done by Gram Panchayats and Zila Parishads under MGNREGA because people suspect robbing of public money without doing any work.
Nongthombam Bobby, a resident of Kongba Laishram Leikai posted on Facebook on April 29 asking to remove the Citizen Information Board recently erected covertly near his gate displaying Renovation of Public Pond at Laishram Leikai with a sanction amount of Rs. 2,36,646 from August 30 to September 4, 2019. He further questioned when it was renovated.
When asked, Bobby told FPSJ Review that he did not witness any renovation work of the pond which is adjacent to his home and there is also no evidence of renovation of the pond. People can easily see it. He further appeals the authorities concerned to look into the matter of robbing public money.
Spokesman of the Indigenous People’s Association of Kangleipak (IPAK), Kshetrimayum Somorendro told FPSJ Review on May 1 that they have received about 500 different complaints from job card holders from all the Gram Panchayats in the valley areas following the organisation published their helpline numbers 9774944964, 7005469566 and 9366559877 and email [email protected] in local media to help address the grievances of job card holders.
Somorendro further said, one of the complaints is that about 150 job card holders of a Gram Panchayat were allegedly told to return the balance after deduction of Rs. 1600 from Rs. 5500 credited to their accounts. If this is to be done, the members, pradhans and others have to get Rs. 5,85,000 while the 150 job card holders get Rs. 2,40,000 only.
Though the wages of job card holders are paid under Direct Beneficiary Transfer in all the Gram Panchayats of Valley districts, there is a practice of handling of the bank accounts of job card holders by the Members and Pradhans which give them the leverage to swindle the money.
There are job card holders, members and Pradhans who genuinely work and deserve their wages. However, there are cases of job card holders who received their wages credited to their accounts even though they didn’t work. There are also cases of wages calculated and credited for several days including non-working days and they are told to take wages for the working days only. And the Members and Pradhans of the Gram Panchayats, Zila Parishads and other authorities ask the job card holders to share the large chunk of amount with them. There is lack of honesty and sincerity among the stakeholders. This is how they rob the public money, Somorendro said.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics