A massive scam has come to fore in the implementation of the much-publicized MGNREGA scheme in various village blocks of Kashmir region, giving a grim insight into the shady world where officials carry out murky deals to fill their own coffers at the expense of tax-payers money.
RTI queries have revealed how officials had been flouting the norms brazenly in spite of warnings issued by Rural Development Department.
MGNREGA guarantees the right to work with an aim to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. It was launched in 2005 and has been hailed as one of India’s flagship scheme concerning poverty alleviation.
The latest scam has raised serious questions over the quality of transparency maintained while implementing the program in Kashmir.
An RTI filed by Mannan Bukhari, heading Kashmir Rights Monitoring Centre has exposed how officials have authorized the construction of Tube wells in place of Dug wells even as the scheme forbids doing it. Besides, experts argue, it should have technically been the job of Public Health Engineering to install Tube wells. BDO, by contrast, is not authorized to do it.
“According to MGNREGA guidelines, the Labour: Material ratio must be about 70:30 per cent, yet officials have been doing the other way around,” says Bukhari who has played a key role in unearthing the scam. “It takes more material and less labour to construct tube wells and such practices have no place in MGNREGA.”
Documents obtained though RTI reveal, a copy of which lies with the Kashmir Life, that Block Development Office Budgam invested amount to the tune of Rs 99 lakhs and is alleged to have committed irregularities in many cases.
For example, in one Panchayat halka in Ichgam, investment of Rs 1, 31,560 was made for the construction of Tube wells in out of which just Rs 4000 was disbursed among the labour. It has been discovered that materials were purchased from the rest of the amount, implying a sheer violation of the guidelines.
“Not just this, they have arbitrarily procured materials from the favoured suppliers bypassing the proper mechanism involving a Purchasing Committee that would have examined and scrutinized the quality of the products before procuring them,” Bukhari says.
In another RTI response pertaining to MGNREGA activities in the Block, BK Pora of Budgam district, breath taking irregularities in Dug well constructions have come to fore.
Initially, the BDO had furnished incomplete information. Angered at the “slight”, Bukhari wrote first appeal following which the First Appellate Authority had directed the concerned officials to provide point-wise information in three days. The information released consequently also revealed violations of Labour: Material guidelines prescribed under the act
It is pertinent to mention here that PIO of then BDO BK Pora subsequently denied the pending information citing grounds that it had been “washed out in floods,” without actually furnishing any FIR or any documentary evidence to substantiate the claim.
It also falsely claimed that the material for the construction of Tube wells was procured for SICOP but later submitted that an amount of Rs 90,08,235 has been credited to an unknown source “Deluxe” – a move that cast suspicions over its conduct.
Curiously, with regards to furnishing documentary proof evidencing the damage due to floods, the BDO informed that then BDO had already submitted an inventory about the damages to ADC Budgam on 9th September 2014 – the date when Valley was still reeling under devastating floods.
“I fail to understand how it is possible that the BDO managed to sit in the office, get a letter head and type on it?” Bukhari asks.
“How did she remember the reference number and official communication number when she admits that floods has destroyed the records and damaged the electronics at the office? Clearly the rot has infested the system deeper than it appears.”
Bukhari lamented that BDO as a significant custodian of public record could not even bring itself for file an FIR and instead produced a mere inventory which is not suffice to prove that entire record was destroyed.
Notably, the Sate Information Commission in its judgment No. SIC/K/SA/112/2015/150 has stated, “after going through the documents brought on record, there appears merit in the argument made by the appellant in his objections placed at Para 5. That flood furry devastated entire Kashmir Valley in general and Srinagar and its adjoining areas in particular on 07.09.2014, thereby disrupting not only road communication but also telephone/mobile connectivity. In such a situation, it is highly unlikely that BDO could reach office along with entire staff and prepared an inventory of damages. In the damage report addressed to ACD vide No. BKP/821-25 dated 09.09.2014, BDO has informed that water in the office premises entered in all rooms up to bed level resulting in damage to all records i.e., work bills, voucher files, registers, Cashbooks, Allotment files, I.A.Y files and other important files existing in 1st shelves of steel lockers and wooden shelves, besides damage to UPS, CPU’s, 2 No. Printers, extension cords etc. The inventory has been prepared as per subject matter/title of files and period to which it pertains, implying that damage was not severe and records inside files, which are mostly computer typed, could have been retrieved/salvaged. Further, even if the records were damaged, destruction of records can be done only with the orders of Competent Authority vested with such powers. No such evidence has been brought before Commission in this regard. The inventory has been signed by around 11 officials and attested by the BDO. Was it possible for all these officials to reach the office on 9th September, 2014 i.e. two days after the flood hit Srinagar District and its adjoining areas is a question, which can only be answered through a proper enquiry. As regards source of procurement of material of Tube wells, BDO has informed Commission on the basis of records that no raw material have been lifted from District Manager SICOP Budgam during period requested. Similarly, Project Officer Wage Employment/ACD, informed that as per records available with his office, no such orders have been issued till date. It therefore appears that procurement of material for Tube wells/Dug wells amounting to Rs 90,08,235/- (refer Para 6) has been made by the BDO from one source called “Deluxe”. The appellant at Para 4 of RTI application has sought documents regarding approval of Competent Authority for installing of Tube Wells/Hand Pumps. This information has not been provided on the plea that records have been damaged. However, Commission is of the considered view that this issue needs thorough enquiry to ascertain whether BDO is competent to make such purchases, whether codal procedures have been followed and whether approval of Competent Authority has been obtained. It also needs to be enquired whether installation of Dug wells/Tube wells are in accordance with MGNREGA guidelines and whether ratio of Labour: Material has been maintained as per norms.
Accordingly, Registrar, J&K State Information Commission shall mark a copy of the order to the Secretary to Government, Rural Development Department, Civil Secretariat Jammu, District Development Commissioner Budgam and Director Rural Development Department Kashmir to hold a time bound enquiry into the matter and take appropriate action, so that the objectives of the RTI, which is meant to bring out irregularities/omissions & Commissions in the working of public authorities are met. The above Public Authorities shall apprise the Commission about outcome of the enquiry.”