In a video of May 2016, filmed by Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay, Fulmani Mundri of women’s group called Jyoti Mahila Samuh (JMS), reported how the NREGA officials of West Singbhum planned and cheated 12 women of almost Rs. 2 lakh. The officials had siphoned 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 revealed. 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 That is when we found out through block office records that a sum of Rs. 1,61,000 was already withdrawn for the same purpose,” told Fulmani.The records showed that the said amount was withdrawn even before the work had started. “We started the work on February 26 but the amount was withdrawn on 24th itself.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” argued Fulmani who suspected 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 told Xavier. The embezzlement had 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 had visited the Block Development Office more than four times but the BDO had time and again had 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 had 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 had lost hopes that they will ever get justice or a fair chance to redeem themselves in their village. This gross misconduct was a blow on women empowerment as much as it is a case of plundering state resources.
The change process
Xavier filmed a video on this issue and held a community meeting in the village. A application addressing the MNREGA Commissioner was written and signed by the attendees in the meeting itself. Xavier and the women then visited the commissioner's office and explained to him the problem. The application was submitted and an assurance of help was provided in return by the officer. Three weeks later an investigation team consisting of MNREGA commissioner, District panchayat officials and block development officer arrived in the village. Upon investigation, the officials realized that the concern was serious and the funds were misplaced. The officials then announced that the women were innocent and the funds were taken by middle persons thus an inquiry was initiated. The officers also promised women that the remaining necessary material would be dumped in the village as soon as the matter gets solved. Through a consistent follow up with officers and community over phone calls and visits to officers, Xavier was successful in achieving the change.
The remaining necessary material ( filler soil ) was dumped in the village in February 2019 and the 1 km road from Ratli toli to Uleker was completed in May 2019. More than 6500 people depend on this road. A new road has opened up new opportunities for the tribal villagers. Especially the SHG women have emerged stronger and victorious.
Many applications later, hundreds of people continue to suffer.
Formal applications to get new beds have been sent thrice to the local administration. But the situation hasn't changed.