Between March and August 2012, a test check of records in the office of the State Employment Guarantee Commissioner (SEGC) was carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) by way of a performance review of the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Jharkhand during the period April 2007 to March 2012. The test-check covered six districts (or District Rural Development Authorities) out of 24 implementing districts in Jharkhand and the audit throws up findings to highlight several factors that imperil the effective implementation of the scheme in Jharkhand.
NREGS implementation in Jharkhand had come under audit scrutiny once during the year 2006-07 and several irregularities such as non-payment of wages, non-payment of unemployment allowances, diversion of funds, irregularities in muster rolls maintenance and job cards had been reported in the CAG's Civil Audit report on the state for the year ending March 31, 2007. Now, after five years, another performance audit once again hit constraints as CAG auditors noticed that records were either not maintained at all or were maintained improperly.
The performance review also points out that only about 1 to 3 per cent of households get 100 days of work under MGNREGS. Chronic delays in payment of wages and the material intensive nature of works have proved to be demotivating for households with the result that the state has witnessed a decline in the number of households seeking work under the scheme.
The quality of works on rainwater harvesting ponds leaves much to be desired and the audit has raised a flag on the lack of provision for the maintenance of assets created from MGNREGS funds. As per the information provided to audit teams by officials from the six test-checked districts, a total of 102,727 assets were created during 2007-2012 at an expenditure of Rs 553.32 crore.
The audit also severely criticised authorities in test-checked districts, blocks and gram panchayat for their inability to maintain the assets registers in the prescribed format, due to which the current state of these rural assets could not be ascertained.
Audit scrutiny revealed that the District Perspective Plan was not prepared in any of the six test- checked districts during the period 2007-2012. Moreover, in 167 Gram Panchayats, annual plans were either not prepared or were prepared in an incomplete manner. Development plans prepared in six test-checked districts did not include the order of priority of works, details of person days to be generated, enduring outcomes to be derived, use of seasonal crop pattern, assessment of labour demand etc.
A renovated pond with check dam funded under NREGS. .It was observed during a test check of records in Kanke block of Ranchi district that the development plans for the period 2007-2012 were submitted to the District Program Coordinator after a delay of 5 to more than 12 months. In Palamu district, auditors came across delays ranging between 18 days to 9 months in grant of approvals to development plans by Prabandh Parishad. Similarly, in Ranchi district, delays in approval of development plans ranged between 19 days and 25 months during the years 2008-2010.
Such information in respect of the other test-checked districts was not found on record and was not supplied to audit teams though called for.
Registration, job cards and employment generation
Door-to-door surveys were not carried out in six test-checked districts to ascertain the number of households seeking wage work under NREGS. During the beneficiary survey, audit teams found that no photographs of the registered workers were affixed on 291 out of 1670 (i.e. one out of every five) job cards verified during the survey.
Reasons for such shortfall in wage employment as analysed by the audit were mainly selection of material-intensive works, cancellation or abandonment of a large number of works, a decrease in employment demand and delayed payment of wages, as discussed below.
Non-payment and delayed payment of wages
Audit scrutiny of records in 16 Gram Panchayats during July 2012 showed that wages worth Rs 4.92 lakh, in respect of 46 work projects, were not paid to workers even as they finished the work in May 2012. In reply to an audit query, District Program Coordinators (DPCs) stated that these workers were also not paid compensation.
This audit finding is a huge cause of concern, especially as it comes after repeated assurances from the Union Ministry of Rural Development that payment of MGNREGS shall not be delayed, and that in case of a delay beyond 15 days, workers shall be provided compensation. It is also shocking that even after auditors brought this to the notice of all the four DPCs, only Dumka and Palamu coordinators committed to examine the matter, whereas the other two DPCs didn't furnish any reply at all.
During the audit in six test-checked districts, it was found out that in 79 Gram Panchayats, payment of wages amounting to Rs 2.15 crore was made to workers after delays ranging between 1 and 468 days. This just proves once more how the NREGS is plagued by chronic delays in payment of wages in certain Gram Panchayats, impacting the well being and livelihood security of workers who had to suffer due to this. This was reconfirmed during a beneficiary survey conducted during April 2012 to July 2012, when 601 respondents out of a total of 1670 surveyed beneficiaries reported delay in payment of wages.
Such chronic delays have discouraged workers seeking employment under the programme and the number of households demanding work declined from 17.21 lakh in 2007-08 to 15.69 lakh in 2011-12.
Human Resource Challenges
In six test-checked districts, vacancies in the cadre of Programme Officers ranged between 19 and 50 per cent and that in the cadre of Assistant Engineers between 61 and 90 percent. Pakur district was the worst in this regard, where 100 per cent of posts in the cadre of Assistant Engineer were vacant!
The shortage of Accounts Assistants ranged between 28 and 70 per cent, that of Computer Assistants between 33 to 80 per cent and Gram Rozgar Sahayaks between 5 to 14 per cent. The audit also found that even as there was a clear paucity of personnel, the state government deputed Gram Rozgar Sahayaks in the work of economic and social survey in Ranchi and Pakur districts.
No panel of accredited engineers and Technical Resource Support System was constituted, leading to failure in ensuring the quality of works undertaken. Shortfalls were observed in the training imparted to key functionaries at block and GP levels, ranging between 2 and 77 per cent of targeted trainings as fixed by the District Programme Coordinators.
No training was provided to worksite mates. This adversely impacted the authenticity of data in the Muster Rolls, quality of work executed and overall worksite supervision. A large number of cases of tempering the Muster Rolls (cutting and overwriting, omission or deletion of names, period of work etc.) was also noticed during audit scrutiny.
Lapses in mandated monitoring
Section 4(i) of the NREGA, 2005 directed that within six months from the promulgation of the Act, state governments shall make a scheme by notification, for providing not less than 100 days of guaranteed employment in a financial year to every household in which adult members, by application, volunteer to do unskilled manual work in rural areas covered under the scheme.
The State Employment Guarantee Scheme was formulated in Jharkhand in June 2007, after a delay of one year and nine months from the date of notification of NREGA in Jharkhand (i.e. September 07, 2005). The State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC) was constituted in January 2007, that is after a delay of 11 months from the date of launching NREGS.
Audit scrutiny revealed that the SEGC met only thrice during the five years (2007-2012), whereas the prescribed norm was of meeting once every six months. The audit also noticed that during the period 2008-2011, SEGC had not met even once. The CAG observed that .In the absence of required meetings of SEGC, monitoring and review of the implementation of MGNREGS at regular intervals did not take place and necessary corrective measures could not be implemented resulting in lesser employment generation..
In February 2009, the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) directed state governments to set up high level inter-departmental coordination committees for overall monitoring and supervision of NREGS in the respective states. While the government of Jharkhand constituted a high level committee in July 2009 under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary, audit scrutiny revealed that no meetings/ inspections by the high level committee were held as of March 2012.
Paragraph 10.3 of the Operational Guidelines, 2008 prescribes that State level, District level and Block level officers carry out 2, 10 and 100 per cent internal verification of works at the field level respectively. However, statistics made available for audit scrutiny in respect of five districts by the District Programme Coordinator (DPC) showed that no inspections were carried out by state level officers.
The data also showed that district level officials had carried out monitoring to a satisfactory level while there was a 42 per cent shortfall in inspections by block level officials. Audit also made an indicting remark that no records of inspections carried out were available either at district or at block levels. The report stressed that the effectiveness of the inspections couldn't be vouchsafed in the absence of documented directions and follow up.
Audit scrutiny revealed that State and District Quality Monitors had not been appointed for quality monitoring till July 2012. Due to their absence, regular monitoring and quality concerns of the assets created could not be addressed. The auditors came across several cases of sub-standard works in the test-checked districts. During the exit conference with auditors in July 2012, the Principal Secretary assured him that State and District Quality Monitors would be appointed shortly.
While the national act stipulates the due registration of complaints and maintenance of a register as well as disposal of complaints within a week, the state govt of Jharkhand has fixed a minimum time limit of one month for disposal of complaints. As per information furnished by the Rural Development Department, 964 complaints were received during 2007-2012, out of which only 16 per cent (i.e. 150 complaints) were disposed of within a year.
Audit teams found complaint registers only in Ranchi district, while in the other five districts these were not maintained at all. In the case of Ranchi district, 91 complaints relating to 13 blocks were recorded in the MGNREGS Management Information System (MIS) during May 2009 to July 2010. The delay in disposal of these complaints ranged between 25 days to more than a year.
During the exercise, audit teams got a chance to observe and get first-hand experience of one public hearing at Sadar-Medininagar block on 19 May, 2012. The audit report shows a photograph of this meeting that reveals many empty chairs. The only people present at the public hearing were reported to be the elected representatives of the Panchayat Samiti and block office staff. Thus, the audit team observed that .the public hearing was completed without the involvement of rural people..
The Operational Guidelines also stipulate a model .Citizens' Charter' to be prepared by the state covering all aspects of the duties of Panchayats and official under the Act. However, as per information furnished for the audit, the Citizens' Charter was not prepared in the state. The Principal Secretary accepted this shortcoming in the exit conference in July 2012 and directed officials to prepare and upload it on the official website.
Audit scrutiny of records in six test-checked districts showed that as against the prescribed 11786 social audits, 5660 audits (48 per cent) were conducted during 2007-2012. In four of these districts, 10747 objections, entailing a monetary value of Rs 47.43 lakh, were raised during these social audits. 22 FIRs were lodged based on these and disciplinary action was initiated against defaulting officials.
According to the Operational Guidelines, a District Internal Audit Cell should be constituted in the office of the District Programme Coordinator (DPC) in order to scrutinise the social audit reports of the Gram Sabha and conduct a follow up special audit if needed. However, according to information provided by the Rural Development Department, no such internal cell was constituted in any of the districts of the state.
In addition to all of this, large scale discrepancies were noticed between data uploaded on the MIS and the information furnished in Monthly Progress Reports.
These discrepancies mostly pertain to records such as the number of households registered, number of job cards issued, job card numbers, employment demanded,
employment provided, number of works etc. No action was taken by the SEGC to assess the performance of the scheme and its impact on the lives of workers.