Thursday, September 1, 2011

Postmaster misappropriates wages of villagers in Orissa

Dear Comrades,

This is an extract of the article regarding misuse of payment done for MGNREGS works published in

Dear friends, 
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the 30 villagers engaged in road construction from February 2011 onward under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) did not receive their full wages in March. All testified that the Post Master deducted certain amounts from two months wages in the name of loyalty whereas the passbooks say that all were fully paid. The villagers who are mostly illiterate refused to pay but were forced to do so. It is also alleged that the Post Master misappropriated the wages of workers from other villages. The government fund aiming to ensure the livelihood and food security of the poor is continuously abused by the corrupt officials. 

A total of seventeen villagers who have job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have been constructing a road connected to the village since February 2011. They live in Alanaguda village, Paikapulbeda Panchayat, Dasmantpur block, Koraput in Orissa. 
In March, the first payment was deposited on their passbooks and they were informed to withdraw their wages in late March. When they went to the post office located in Paikapulbeda village which is five kilometers away from Alanaguda village to collect their wages individually, the Post Master Mr. Narasingha Pako forced them to pay a fee. The villagers refused, but had no choice but pay since the Post Master has the authority to distribute their payment. The Post Master filled the withdrawal form for all as out of 17 families 15 families are illiterate. Later the post master distributed the payment to the villagers after deducting his fee. Out of 17, four have not received even a single rupee, 11 received less than what they were supposed to be paid. On the contrary, he recorded that all withdrew the full wage. The villagers and deducted wages are as listed below. * OBC: Other Backward ClassAlanaguda is a village which comes under Paikapulbeda Panchayat. The village has 382 families and out of which 144 families are from tribes, officially categorized as Scheduled Tribes in India. Most of the families depend upon agriculture, but a few have title to the land. Agricultural produce from the land is not sufficient as land is not fertile and the villagers do not have effective irrigation system. As many other villagers, they are highly dependent on the government employment scheme for their livelihood, which is rather temporary. Even the government scheme is not implemented properly due to corrupt practice by the relevant officials, for example a Post Master in this case, which causes hunger to the poor in rural area. 
                                                                                                                                 (Unit: rupee)
Since the MGNREGS was launched in Paikapulbeda Panchayat in 2006, the villagers were engaged in road construction in their own villages in 2009. Accordingly, the villagers of Alanaguda village worked for the road within the village. Later on in early 2011, 20 villagers worked in the neighboring village named Jholaguda village, which is 5 kilometers away from Alanaguda village. None of workers have yet received wages, which is a violation of the MGNREG Act. The Act says that payment should be done in 7 to 15 days of work. For instance, Mr. Abhi Lamta who worked for road construction from RD road to Paiko Street has not received a wage of 700 rupees. He has gone to Panchayat office several times to demand on his wages, which was refused. At present, the work has stopped due to heavy rain and the villagers face serious food insecurity due to lack of resources and food. Misappropriation of the government fund is not the only reason. The government does not pay the wages on time violating MGNREG Act. Thus the villagers have no other choice but migration to other states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra where they are mentally and physically abused. Further the tribes applied for claims in accordance with the Forest (rights) Act immediately after the act came into force in 2008 to ensure their rights to land. The claims have not been settled till today. 

ADDITIONAL COMMENTSThis case is one of the examples of corruption aggravating food security of the vulnerable communities in rural remote area. Yet, this type of corruption is not taken into account by the government. Recently a massive campaign against the corruption is rapidly emerged calling for anti corruption bill in India. In campaign, people from different caste, profession, and class join hands to raise their voice against corruption as being fed up by the corruption, which is considerably prevalent on the ground as seen in this case. The campaign pressurizes the government to pass the law, yet the government is reluctant to bring lower level officials under the purview of this act. 

One of the food security related government scheme, the MGNREGS aims to ensure food accessibility by providing employment to the families in rural area and creating rural livelihood assets to improve the situation of poverty, unemployment and track distress migration etc. The MGNREG Act suggests ensuring the timely payment of wages, which is in fact not efficient in practice. As proved in this case, the government fund for MGNREGS often goes to the corrupt officials’ pockets while the poor beneficiaries face hunger. 

August 30, 2011

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