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ď40% to 50% of MGNREGS funds suffer from leakagesĒ
Rajesh Tandon, President, Participatory Research in Asia, says a CAG audit into MGNREGS spending will not fix the problems
Issue Date - 30/05/2012
B&E: The Union Rural Development Ministry has asked the Comptroller & Auditor General of India to do a performance audit of NREGS. Will it have any impact?
Rajesh Tandon (RT): The MGNREGS has grown very rapidly. Even before we understood the challenges of implementing it for populist and political reasons, it was expanded throughout the country. Substantial allocations have been made, which have increased over time. Among the most important building blocks of this programme are the Gram Sabhas and Gram Panchayats, which respond to the needs of the rural unemployed. So the programme is designed to facilitate decentralized decision making. But right from the very beginninwg not enough attention was paid to creating adequate infrastructure at the local levels for implementing such a vast and substantial programme. So there have been leakages in the system and across different levels of implementation. However, I donít think that CAG audit of the programme will be able to identify the leakages taking place at the local levels. The CAG mechanism, after all, goes up to state government levels.

B&E: Can CAG audits help plug the loopholes in MGNREGS?
RT: I am not convinced that anything substantial will come out of the CAG audit because of reasons of political supineness. The political will for taking action against executive and administrative lapses is almost absent. These days, the first thing that people in power do is to criticize the CAG. This is what has happened to several of its reports Ė on 2G spectrum allocation, defence procurement, Commonwealth Games, functioning of central PSUs, etc. Itís unfortunate that the political leadership is questioning the credentials and expertise of CAG.

B&E: How big do you think are the irregularities in MGNREGS?
RT: My guess is that 40 to 50% of the funds are not reaching the targeted beneficiaries. Those who are not deserving of MGNREGS cards have got cards made in their names, those who donít work are still able to draw payments, those who get paid have to offer a cut. The leakages keep happening down the line and you cannot have leakages at lower levels without the connivance of the higher bureaucracy.

B&E: Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh expressed his inability to order a CBI inquiry into irregularities in MGNREGS citing the nationís federal structure. What do you make of it?
RT: It has become common fashion in UPA II to blame opposition-ruled state governments for all the ills. There are, of course, Congress-ruled states as well. Why canít he order an inquiry into the working of NREGS in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, where his own party is in power.



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