National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has boosted about high women participation in the labour workforce. On the completion of a decade of NREGA, BJP national Secretary Siddharth Nath Singh had said revealed that 2014-15 saw the highest utilisation of funds under NREGA with Rs 48,000 crore utilised, the highest till date and also claimed that 57% percent women were involved in the job scheme across India. However, such claims are in direct contradiction of this video of rampant corruption by NREGA officials in West Singbhum, Jharkhand.
In a shocking interview with Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay, Fulmani Mundri of women's group called Jyoti Mahila Samuh (JMS), reveals how the NREGA officials of West Singbhum planned and cheated 12 women of almost Rs. 2 lakh. The officials have syphoned off the project money worth Rs. 1,61,000 meant for constructing roads in the villages, in what it seems like a pre-planned scam.
Fulmani was proud of JSM group when they bagged the first project to construct a stretch of one kilometre. "Usually, men are preferred to undertake work in this region. However, the officials entrusted this project to us, saying that we would be better at project execution," recalls Fulmani, as she speaks with Xavier. The signs of corruption had started as soon as JSM went to encash cash vouchers for raw material. "The employment officer charged Rs. 3000-4000 from each voucher we would submit. Till date, he must have taken at least Rs. 28,000 from our voucher," Fulmani reveals.
However, the scam came to light when the JSM group went to ask for further raw materials needed for the road. "We had levelled the roads with dirt and went to ask for cash to purchase other materials to dump on the road. That is when we found out through block office records that a sum of Rs. 1,61,000 was already withdrawn for the same purpose," tells Fulmani.The records showed that the said amount was withdrawn even before the work had started. "We started the work on February 26 but the amount was withdrawn on 24th itself. These vouchers were submitted by the BDO on our behalf" argues Fulmani who suspects that the money was siphoned off by the Block Development Officer (BDO) and Post Master "Whenever we would ask the Post Master about the amount transfer into our account, he would insist that the account number was incorrect, which was not the case," Fulmani tells Xavier.
The embezzlement has put Fulmani and her group into a quandary as the residents of the village are accusing these women of syphoning funds. To seek redemption, Fulmani has visited the Block Development Office more than four times but the BDO has time and again has remained silent to Fulmani's queries. She recounts several instances where her demands were met with just silence, "I was asking him questions about the funds but he didn't even listen to me. Is his duty just to sit in that office?" It has been more than a year since Fulmani and JSM have been fighting for the matter to be enquired but there has been little or no action on the same.
Of the 69 lakh families in Jharkhand, 36 lakh - that's just over 50 per cent - are below the poverty line, making Jharkhand one of the poorest states in India. For families such as Fulmani's, who is engaged in agricultural labour, the rural jobs scheme like the NREGA provide a financial ability to achieve more in life.
Fulmani and her group have lost hopes that they will ever get justice or a fair chance to redeem themselves in their village. This gross misconduct is a blow on women empowerment as much as it is a case of plundering state resources. Let us get together and bring justice to Fulmani and her community.
Call Siddharth Tripathi, NREGA Commissioner, Jharkhand on +91-9431168079, tell him about the problem and request him to help the women's committee get the allotted money.
This video was made by a Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay from Jharkhand.
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