Tag: nrega

UID: Another Scam in the Making

Corruption is something we encounter almost every day. We even abet it on for the sake of convenience. Perhaps corruption has become part of our DNA without our knowing it. Could that be why every private, public or government mass project in India becomes a victim of mismanagement, lag, inaccuracies and corrupt practices? Like the UID project … waiting in queue to join the regular Indian diet of scams.

UID – From whence it comes

UID, Unique Identification or Aadhaar Card as it is more commonly known is vigorously supported by the Congress government. Aadhaar registrations kicked off in September 2010 without “proper debate” in parliament. In fact, the proposed bill was firmly rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on finance chaired by Yashwant Sinha in December 2011. Home minister P. Chidambaram has also expressed his reservations of the project that has no cabinet clearance, making it open to question at any time.

The UID project, guidelines and related technology are coordinated by the Unique Identity Development Authority of India, UI DAI at the center. Implementation at field level is the responsibility of respective state governments. They in turn work with authorized registrars who need UIDs for their own operations. And at the ground there are private or publicly owned agents or NGOs that serve as empanelled enrollment centers. The NPR is an important partner registrar in the enrollment process.

The UID project is headed by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys. He was called in for the task by PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh. His team includes enterprisers from private and government circles. Some volunteered for free, some were invited to join. The mammoth project will certainly be a once in a lifetime experience for the UIDAI team but will it have an enduring impact on the lives of the average Indian too?

The UID scheme is expected to cost the country a whopping ₹150,000 crore though some estimate it as higher. At least ₹598 crore rupees have been funneled into services outsourced to partners like MindTree and Accenture among others. While the amount is shocking, what’s worse is the inept execution of the project at ground level.

Misguided, mishandled and misused

Projected as a pro-poor people’s initiative, UID is expected to streamline the delivery of food, water, homes, jobs, security, fuel, and the like to India’s poor as sanctioned under various national schemes. Because analysis tells us that the reason NREGA and other “feed the poor” schemes are falling on their face is because poor people can’t be identified correctly? You’ve got to be kidding. How will fingerprinting and iris scans stop unscrupulous agents from exploiting the poor?

Reports of UID’s shoddy implementation continue to pour in. Almost 30,000 bogus registrations were submitted by an “ex-employee” at a Hyderabad enrollment center. Turns out his credentials were used by other agents across 20 centers. This … when the fingerprint scan of the agent is part of the authentication process. Clearly, the involvement of a technocrat like Nandan Nilekani in the UID project has not prevented technological loopholes from entering the system, allowing miscreants to take advantage.

In other places, free Aadhaar forms are being sold to people standing in queues at MLA’s houses; like black tickets for a show but without the promise of entertainment. Delhi’s MPs and MLAs are blindly handing out necessary documents for UID to woo voters. Diligent people who registered in 2011 are still waiting.

UID – It begs the question WHY?

Inept execution aside, why do we need UID anyway? As an aid for the poor, its usability is suspect. With the way Aadhaar registrations are being manipulated and mishandled, building a clean, accurate and verified UID database of Indian citizens is out of the picture.

From a legal standpoint, the Aadhaar project can be challenged as it hasn’t received parliamentary approval. It allows non-citizens to avail the same benefits as citizens in violation of the Citizenship Act, 1955. And collecting biometric data is an invasion of individuals’ privacy rights in a free country.

Strangely and worryingly, UID is not mandatory. Nilekani says UID is voluntary but service providers might make it mandatory. In the long run I wouldn’t call it compulsory. I’d rather say it will become ubiquitous. This play of words means this: Common people will register on Aadhaar because they naturally want access to subsidies. The uncommon man with plenty to hide can conveniently opt out as he certainly doesn’t need subsidies nor wants his biometrics and private information on record. Bottom line? The UID scheme changes nothing except adding to the taxpayer’s burden.



[stockquote]INFY[/stockquote] [stockquote]MINDTREE[/stockquote]

NREGA – A Failure No One Accepts

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) scheme that was launched by the Central Government in 2005 was a noble initiative but badly implemented. Like many other rural empowerment schemes, NREGA has become a swindling racket for corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and contractors to fill their pockets even as the intended beneficiaries bemoan delayed payments and rampant bribery.

NREGA – What’s it about?

Shovels readyNREGA, later renamed to Mahatma Gandhi NREGA (which was pretty much the only rework done on it), was started in 2005 to legally ensure employment of rural people for at least 100 days every year. The scheme was open to any rural household with adult members willing to do unskilled public work, using manual tools, for the minimum wage of Rs.130 per day (2009).

The central government rolled out the scheme to state governments, ultimately making the scheme active across 635 districts in the country through the Gram Panchayats.

How does NREGA work?

  1. Rural household members register in writing or verbally at Gram Panchayat, free of cost.
  2. After verification, Panchayat issues Job Card to worker; expectedly within 15 days of application submission.
  3. Worker may specify preference of days and time employment is sought; minimum 14 days.
  4. Panchayat must guarantee employment within 15 days or pay unemployment allowance.
  5. Worker is granted work within 5km radius or paid 10% extra beyond the parameter.
  6. Wages must be paid within a week and not later than 2 weeks.
  7. Permissible works predominantly include water and soil conservation, afforestation and land development works.

NREGA – The fallout

NREGA is under criticism for corruption as well as creating detrimental secondary effects in poverty stricken areas. Since the scheme mandates “manual unskilled” labour, undertaken rural projects suffer in quality. Furthermore, workers learn nothing new; there is no skill upgradation that makes them more employable down the road.

A 2013 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on NREGA reveals huge gaps in implementation:

  • only 30% of 129 lakh approved projects worth over Rs 1.26 lakh crore completed
  • rural households’ work dropped from 54% to 43%
  • 100 days of guaranteed employment factually only 43
  • wage disbursement lower than the minimum specified under NREGA
  • discrimination between men and women; women do not get jobs or are paid less
  • misappropriation of funds by creation of ghost workers (on paper only); highest in Karnataka and Assam
  • no filling of muster rolls at places of work and record manipulation
  • unsatisfactory monitoring by Center
  • Block Development Officers issuing cheques in their own names
  • staff shortage

New Delhi FamilyNREGA is turning into a sink hole that’s contributing to the growing fiscal deficit of the country. Despite NREGA being active since 8 years, there is no significant development in village roads and infrastructure or improvement in local job opportunities. Furthermore, there are concerns that NREGA is creating agricultural labour deficit during peak harvesting and sowing seasons. Though, if the farmers were paid well and taken care of in bad times, maybe they wouldn’t head out to cities.

The total expenditure under NREGA in 2011-12 was Rs. 37,303.30 crore. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, states that the implementation of NREGA is suffering due to “non-availability of funds” and CAG findings are “untrue and deceptive.” Another political blame game is on the verge – and it will end nowhere.

Rural Development Ministry is talking about making direct payments to NREGA beneficiaries through Aadhaar cards. But the bottom line is that NREGA does not add long-term value to scheme beneficiaries. It would be wiser to divert funds to better implemented schemes that support farmers and rural populace rather than stick with NREGA that’s clearly a failure.