A pond being dug in Birbhum’s Suri under the 100-day job scheme. Picture by Dwijodas Ghosh

PRANESH SARKAR, TT, Calcutta, June 30: A central team has expressed “concerns” over the implementation of the 100-day rural job scheme in Bengal and urged the state government to address the issues within two weeks.

In a letter written by Aparajita Sarengi, joint secretary (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), to Saurabh Kumar Das, the Bengal panchayat secretary, 11 areas of concern have been listed.
The letter was sent after a team from the Union rural development ministry visited Burdwan, Bankura and Nadia between May 30 and June 2.
While raising the concerns, the Centre has said it “appreciates the sincere efforts made by the state government in ensuring effective implementation of the programme”.
The Telegraph sums up the areas of concern into four categories:
Job cards
The central team has found that “some job cards” in Burdwan have not been updated since 2013. The letter says “this may be the case elsewhere too”. The letter has advised the state to start a drive to update the cards and put “all documents at the GP (gram panchayat) and block level in order”. The Centre has requested the state to complete the exercise within two months.
State government sources said if the job cards are not updated, it opens up the possibility of beneficiaries not getting wages. There is also a possibility of misappropriation of funds sanctioned under the scheme, the sources said.
Each job card mentions details such as the name of the beneficiary, the work assigned to him or her and the period for which he or she worked under the scheme in a financial year.
“If job cards are not updated, the card numbers can be used to prepare false muster rolls to withdraw funds,” a senior government official said. The roll is a list of people working on a project.
The letter mentions that the generation of muster rolls “was not handled as per the process prescribed”.
What the state said: “It could be that some job cards have not been updated but the overall situation is not so bad. Most cards are updated regularly,” an official said.
Projects on paper
The central team has found it “surprising” that it did not notice “any ongoing work on the ground” although two months of the 2016-17 financial year have passed. The letter mentions that a “good number” of projects has been shown as “sanctioned and started” at the gram panchayat or block level.
A state government official said: “If everything remains on paper – from the sanctioning of projects to implementation – funds can be misappropriated.”
What the state said: Dibyendu Sarkar, the MGNREGA commissioner in Bengal, said: “The central team could not be taken to several places where work was on because of time constraints. That is why they raised so many questions. They wanted to see finished projects and we acted accordingly. They were satisfied with the quality of work in Bengal. But it is true that we have to improve our project completion rate.
“We will send a reply in the next couple of days, clearing the confusion. We have done fairly well in the past few years.”
Incomplete projects
The team found that 4 lakh projects were “shown as incomplete” on March 31, 2015. The letter mentions that the state had been asked to “undertake a major drive and close all the incomplete works after observing all procedural formalities”.
The state sources said if such a practice is followed, there can be misuse of funds.
“If a project is shown as incomplete, a gram panchayat can allot funds for it any time on the stated ground that it needs to be taken forward. On several occasions in Bengal, it has been seen that funds are allotted for incomplete projects but they never get completed,” an official said.
Once a project is shown in government records as “closed”, no further funds allocation can be made.
What the state said: “A project cannot be declared completed until all payments are made. In the 2015-16 financial year, the Centre did not release Rs 3,700 crore due to us. That is why a large number of projects could not be declared complete although they had been finished on the ground,” an official said.
No proper records
The team noticed that work files were not in order in any of the project sites it visited. “This is sharply in contrast with most of the states where there was a check list for verification at any time,” the letter says, adding the Bengal government “is required to put a lot of emphasis on proper record maintenance including the work files”.
Work files mention details of a project such as the number of labourers engaged, wages paid and the amount spent. “Work files are checked during surprise inspections and verification of projects. Every project site must have properly maintained work files,” an official said.
According to him, it is “almost impossible” to ascertain if there is corruption if such files are not maintained.
What the state said: “Maintaining records is the responsibility of the rural elected bodies. They execute projects under the scheme. I think there might be some rural bodies that are at fault, but the overall picture is not bad in Bengal,” an official said.
Additional reporting by Snehamoy Chakraborty