Why Mahatma?

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In a seminar on Good governance organised by state agencies Prof Amar Yumnam was talking about certain flagship programmes which had facilitated the

decentralisation of corruption. How very interesting! We had raised this issue earlier in one of our editorials. The programme in question is the

controversial National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). We sometimes wonder why the controversial scheme has been named after the Father of the

Nation Mahatma Gandhi instead of the other Gandhis. NREGS has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Tamenglong district was among the first to be

included in the selected 200 districts across the country when the first phase of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was launched for the first

time in 2006. By April 2008, all the districts of the State were covered by the scheme. The scheme has been renamed Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment

Scheme since October 2010. But as it turned out, only 15 percent of the allocated funds reaches the rural people while the rest is being swindled by

politicians and employees of the concerned department which had come out in the open through RTI queries. There are still hundreds of ignorant people whose

job cards and pass books had been withheld by the Zilla Parishad members, Pradhans and Ward members. By withholding the job cards and the pass books the

elected representatives takes out the money meant for the beneficiaries by forging signatures. Yet, the inbuilt mechanism of check and balance in the scheme

and that of social audit could be easily circumvented by these representatives in collusion with the officials. On the other hand, threats and intimidation

by use of even criminal elements thwart the efforts of those who try to raise voices against such misappropriation of funds. And, the police conveniently

looked the other way, even when there were complaints against the erring representatives and the officials. State documents claimed that, Manipur is one of

the states which have successfully implemented the NREGS and it tops among other states of the country. One remembers the on-site visit of the Union Rural

Development Minister Jairam Ramesh when he took a dig at the figures presented by state with a comment that “It is too good to be true.” He had assured the

state that he will be sending an independent team to assess the real achievements in the state. So, what has it achieved? One of the major achievements of

NREGS is that it has successfully killed the work culture in the rural areas of the valley and hill areas of state. Before the advent of NREGS, there was a

work culture based on hard work and better yields. Sadly it has now been transformed into a ‘work culture’ where you get wages even if you do not work at

all (if you are willing to pay a sizeable percentage to the local representatives). Another major achievement has been that, through devolution of powers

the flagship programme schemes has successfully created a new class of corrupt representatives at the village and regional level, which is why we have been

seeing huge election related expenditure in the ensuing Panchayat elections. The NREGs has become a honeycomb for the newly emerging grassroots leaders.

This must be precisely the state of affairs when Prof Amar Yumnam was talking about decentralisation of corruption. Corruption which was previously the

exclusive domain of ministers, MLAs and bureaucrat officials at various levels has now reached the grassroots level officials and representatives like the

Zilla Parishad members, Pradhans and Panchayat members through devolution of power coupled with largesse provided by NREGS funds. The recent Panchayat

elections will remain the costliest ever and prime indicator of corruption at the grassroots level. Candidates had no qualms in making huge expenses in

trying to win over voters. The logic is simple. Once elected, they will be compensated through the NREGS funds. As we have seen, several complaints on gross

misappropriation of NREGS funds by the Pradhans, members of Panchayat and Zilla Parishad in collusion with concerned officials have come out in the open.

We need serious introspection on the mode of implementation and the monitoring mechanism.

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