How villagers unfolded Rs 60 crore MGNREGA scam in Punjab
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA) in Punjab generated more scams than the employment opportunities. The Panchayat office bearers, their family members, and Rural Development Officials openly indulged in embezzlement of public funds that were meant for the poor and downtrodden.
LOOK INTO ALLEGATIONS
Gursimrat Singh, 29, hails from Chintgarh village of Mohali district's SAS Nagar. He is currently in Kurali in search of a job as no work is available in Chintgarh under MGNREGA from the past six months.
Previously, he along with his mother used to get to work under MGNREGA but now he has been compelled to leave his village for greener pastures.
"We are not getting any employment now. I belong to a poor family. There is no work in our village. There are dozens of unemployed youth who have been compelled to leave the village. The government should regularly provide employment under MGNREGA for common man in Punjab. MGNREGA is a scam," says Gursimrat.
Harjinder Singh, 29, who hails from Kumbra village of SAS Nagar district never got a job under MGNREGA. He is sitting idle and his aged parents and brother work as labours. As claimed, no employment is available under MGNREGA in his village.
The condition of others in the village is no different. Either the work is not available and if it's being done then it's only on papers.
The employment given under MGNREGA has been captured by the upper caste Panchayat office bearers, who emploly their family members and ignore the poor and deserving people.
Balwinder Singh of Manakpur Kallar village of SAS Nager district had complained about a former Zila Parishad member Karan Singh, who had hired a helicopter for Rs 6 lakhs to solemnise his son's marriage and later employed his son and daughter-in-law under MGNREGA.
"I submitted a list of upper caste people who were empolyed under MGNREGA as SC beneficiaries. Karam Singh is well off and had hired a chopper to bring the bride. He pocked public funds by employing the bride and the groom under MGNREGA. Former village headman Avtar singh employed upper caste people and showed them as SCs in the record. I had filed a complaint to the BDPO but he did not take any action," says Balwinder Singh.
MORE SCAMS THAN JOBS
So, where does the MGNREGA funds drain in Punjab. Why the unemployed poor are not getting the guaranteed employment. The answer perhaps lies with the corrupt Panchayat office bearers and the Rural Development Department officials who mastermind scams to pocket the public funds.
Balwinder Singh Kumbra of Kumbra village along with others is fighting a whopping Rs 60 crore MGNREGA scam, which was masterminded by the Rural Development Department officials in four district, including Sangrur, Amritsar, Kapurthala and Gurdaspur. The scam, according to Balwinder Singh, was masterminded by a Superintendent Engineer of Rural Development Department by paying inflated plantation rates.
"We had sent a complaint to the then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chieif Minister Sukhbir Badal who did not take any action. The same complaint was also sent to the Department of Vigilance on April 8, 2015, which also ignored the complaint. We also wrote to the Prime Minister's office which vide its letter dated September 7, 2017 asked the Punjab Chief Secretary to probe the allegations. When we did not hear anything from the Chief Secretary, we were compelled to move the Punjab and Haryana High Court demanding a CBI probe," says Balwinder Singh Kumbra.
Another MGNREGA scam woth Rs 5 crore was masterminded by a BDPO, Rural Development Malvinder singh in Pantra block in Patiala district. The accused official is currently in jail in another case.
Malvinder Singh had embezzled MGNREGA funds to purchase material for brick-lining of village streets, developing village ponds. Interestingly, the payments were made in advance to the firms who did not supply the requisite material.
We spoke to the then Rural Development Minister of Punjab Surjit Singh Rakhra who feigned ignorance about the MGNREGA scams.
The current Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa spilled the beans on previous Akali Dal and the BJP government and assured that adequate employment opportunities will be generated.
"The previous government is responsible for the the scams and step motherly treatment. We will generate adequate employment opportunities in villages after the Panchayat elections are over," Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa said.