This is what Jairam Ramesh said, while pinpointing UP for “criminal conspiracies” to defraud the government with respect to MGNREGA implementation is certain districts. Specific irregularities highlighted by him range from a R50 lakh unjustified spend on calenders in Balrampur and R51 lakh worth of tents purchased in Mahoba from a company that appears untraceable to large-scale embezzlement in Sobhadra where R250 crore (the maximum in any single district) was spent in 2009-10. Ramesh has demanded a CBI probe into the UP anomalies. Mayawati has dashed off a letter to the PM in response, charging Ramesh with trying to score political points. She doesn’t contest the anomalies but draws attention to her government’s efforts to counter these—for example via suspensions and disciplinary proceedings against 27 Class I officials, 38 Class II officials and 69 Class III officials along with 236 field level functionaries, plus 71 FIRs lodged in cases of financial irregularities. It is on the ground that the state government’s own agencies are taking appropriate actions that she challenges the demand for a CBI inquiry, additionally questioning how sweeping generalisations about UP’s 75 districts have been drawn from just 7 districts.
However this particular catfight untangles out, the bottom line is that accountability and oversight mechanisms remain the Achilles’ heel of the UPA’s flagship rural job guarantee scheme. Earlier, we have had field studies reporting the likes of fudged muster rolls, misuse of job cards and account passbooks, and delayed payments (which Ramesh says is the biggest problem facing the programme today). In 2009, the rural development ministry had directed all state governments to establish an independent ombudsman to address grievances; setting up an independent authority to redress complaints was also part of the 100-day agenda of UPA II that year. With these promises remaining unmet, Ramesh now says that CAG will audit all the Centre’s rural development expenditures in all the states. How can MGNREGA address second-generation problems (like creating an “army of unskilled labourers”) while it remains tangled up in first-generation planning pitfalls?