An Indian Civilizational Perspective

India Budget Special: Poverty Programs – the ideal tool of National Plunder!

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)_logo.jpgIn this year’s Economic budget, the Indian Government has allocated Rs 40,100 crore for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) program, in addition to the Rs.64000 crore sought by the Ministry of Rural Development for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.Reforms for the education to workers. That equals $22 Billion! That is more than the entire GDP of Bahrain and just about equal to Cyprus. Just for comparisons. This year, ladies and gentlemen, we will spend on poverty more than what entire Bahrain earns in an year.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates–died of malnutrition–because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. ~ The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck

With the kind of outlays that Indian Government has for the poverty programs, we shouldn’t have any poverty. And these programs have been going on for ages. So, we should be a fairly rich country. Or at the very least a country with no abject poverty. Think again!! On an average, a new kid is better off born in Sub Saharan Africa, than in India! 42.5% of our young children are malnurshed, a rate worse than many sub-saharan countries. 1 in 3 malnurshed children on Earth live in India. (As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists).

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These programs – what with the very exalted names of Mahatama Gandhi and other guys prefixed to them – look great on paper, but don’t have much integrity to them. Times of India called such programs “Loot for Work Program” (this study was for National Food For Work Programme (NFFWP) – which was an interim arrangement for NREGA – but its all the same kind of work and apparatus.

“…. muster rolls are virtually impossible to obtain. Even with a letter of introduction from NC Saxena, commissioner of the Supreme Court, the investigators faced difficulties in obtaining sample muster rolls for verification. And the verifications they were able to carry out showed that much of the information contained in muster rolls was fake.”

According to a Draft Performance Audit, released by the Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) of India; in 2008, an audit by its office showed that the NREGA programs have been a failure. They did an audit on randomly picked 68 districts out of the 200 chosen for the 1st phase. For the period Feb’06 through Mar’07, the number announced by the Ministry of Rural Development were:

Households receiving Employment = 21 million
Households receiving 100 days of employment = 2.2 million

CAG study found the actual figures were Households receiving 100 days of employment = 70400! (3.2%)

Not just CAG, even the PArliamentary Action Committee, has found things aren’t as hunkry dory with the NREGA scheme as it is all made out to be. As per the committee, the main issue is “Government’s failure to ensure minimum wages to the workers even as quality of assets created were by and large sub-standard, non-durable and non-productive.”

Corruption, fudging in muster rolls, discrepancies in work days and payments for NREGA is rampant. The Government of course has contributed to enhancing the levels of corruption and rampant loot going on of tax payers money. Since February 2006, Rs. 1.08 lakh crores ($22 Billion) has been released under the scheme, but the Central Government has never carried out Account Audit of the program ever!

No one knows where or how the money was spent on. If CAG’s audit report – juxtaposed against the numbers issues by Ministry of Rural Development are any indication – then you might be better off asking your neighborhood street dog about the numbers than the Union Minister or even Indian’s PM! The inaccuracy of your estimation of the work NOT done wouldn’t be affected much!

The same nonsensical situation goes on for another of the scheme funded under this year’s budget – Bharat Nirman. The lack of performance is remarkable.

The government’s ambitious plan to build the country’s rural electricity infrastructure under the Bharat Nirman programme is miserably short of its target. Four years after its launch, only seven of the 27 participating states have finalised plans. The scheme is to end in March-April 2009

If these programs – with lofty names and even loftier aims – do not work and end up lining the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats who siphon off the money to Foreign Banks – then why have these programs? Why should the money – paid by honest taxpayers be diverted into such useless ventures?

If poverty was being eradicated, then great. Nothing has happened there it seems. We are competing with Sub-Saharan Africa on that front. Yes, we are competing with US on technology front. But the numbers on the poorer side of the competition are mind-bogglingly high!

With the numbers involved, and with the CONSCIOUS and DELIBERATE attempt to push such amounts of moneys – of ordinary tax payer – into black holes of corruption – one wonders why the Government Programs themselves shouldn’t be the most amazing scams being perpetrated on Indian citizens?

Indian citizens meanwhile don’t care much. No TV analyst, no Opposition Party leader, no economist, no commentator ever comments on the deafening sucking sound of this huge money flow from middle class to political elite and then finally outside of the country, never to be used for our economy productively! Did you hear about this in any Budget analysis this year?

Why not?

Are we too busy analyzing the chairs on the deck of Titanic? Is that the level of our attention and intelligence? Upward and Downward movement of the ship at this time is not about waves, but about the coming disaster. No country has continued with unlimited and unrestricted loot for so long by so many .. with success!

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