In the midst of the frequent bouts of political turmoil, Bihar has floundered in its implementation of the flagship scheme of rural development. More accurately, its performance has been the worst among the states.
Of course, rampant corruption ~ chronically a part of the state’s furniture ~ and woeful lack of initiative could well be the other factors. Small wonder that the state languishes in the cusp of poverty irrespective of the party or a convenient coalition in power. It thus comes about that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government more than a decade ago, has failed in all its principal parameters, even in the matter of meeting essential targets, notably timely payment of wages.
Yet Thursday’s report of the Union ministry of rural development has set alarm bells ringing with its revelation that the average rate of “timely payment” was 50.35 per cent in Bihar ~ a far cry from the national average of 84.86 per cent.
The attitude of the administration in Patna flies in the face of certitudes, principally that the scheme provides for compensation if the wages are not paid within 15 days. As it turns out, Bihar is neither paying wages nor the compensation, which is perhaps the worst of both worlds. The state is not in a position to cite fiscal constraints as this social welfare scheme to alleviate rural poverty is funded wholly by the Centre.
The ministry’s report has been crafted on the basis of empirical evidence, one that doesn’t lend scope for a political spin in the context of the JD (U)’s reported disenchantment after its renewed flirtation with the BJP. Indeed, there appears to have been a rift in the lute, with chief minister Nitish Kumar directing the administration to take “stern action” against cow vigilantes who indulge in violence. That said, a social sector scheme and the compulsion to rein in gau rakshaks are two very different propositions. The CM must accept that Bihar’s record in terms of guaranteeing ~ and paying for ~ rural employment to the poor has been dismal, to say the least.
If the MGNREGS records as on September 1 this year are any indication, a staggering Rs 96.38 crore was payable as “delay compensation”, let alone the wages that were due for work done. No less appalling has been the state’s record in clearing its liabilities. In 2016-17 fiscal, the scheme’s liabilities in terms of wages totalled Rs 7231.74 crore and that for materials Rs 22,223.25 crore. The figures have trebled in contrast to statistics over the three previous financial years.
Sad to reflect, the JD(U)-BJP coalition presides over a doddering welfare scheme, masquerading as public policy