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INDIA: Another massive misappropriation of government funds to ensure food security in Orissa

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from human rights defenders in Orissa who have discovered that government funds to ensure food security by providing employment in rural areas have been allegedly misappropriated by local officials. A farm pond project that was started to ensure salaries for the workers but they were forced to stop working and pay bribes instead. When the case was revealed, the alleged perpetrators tried to silence the human rights activists who brought it to light by assaulting them and filing fabricated cases against them. One of the perpetrators has been given a show cause notice but no guarantee that justice will be granted has been given to the victims.

Hunger Alert General: AHRC-HAG-001-2010



7 April 2010
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INDIA: Another massive misappropriation of government funds to ensure food security in Orissa

ISSUES: Corruption; right to food; right to work; human rights defenders
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from human rights defenders in Orissa who have discovered that government funds to ensure food security by providing employment in rural areas have been allegedly misappropriated by local officials. A farm pond project that was started to ensure salaries for the workers but they were forced to stop working and pay bribes instead. When the case was revealed, the alleged perpetrators tried to silence the human rights activists who brought it to light by assaulting them and filing fabricated cases against them. One of the perpetrators has been given a show cause notice but no guarantee that justice will be granted has been given to the victims.

CASE DETAILS:

According to the information received from the human rights activists, seven beneficiaries from Kusmal Village of Birighat Panchayat, from Nuapada District in Orissa were selected by the Gram Sabha (village council) for digging a Farm Pond on their own land under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) in 2007-2008. A budget amounting to INR 245,000 (USD 5,450) was established.

As all the beneficiaries wanted to do the work themselves, they worked from May 9, 2008 to May 15, 2008. Nevertheless, Mr. Jogeswar Sagria whose wife Ms. Rina Mandal is a Gram Sathi (village friend; two are appointed by the government and one of the two should be a woman. One of the Gram Sathi’s roles is to look after the project under the NREGA helping a Junior Engineer), asked the workers to stop working by arguing that they could get their wages even without actually digging the farm ponds. Mr. Sagria asked them to pay INR 5,000 (USD 100) each instead. Fearing that Mr. Sagria might make use of his influential position to ask the block authority to withdraw the workers names from the list of beneficiaries, the seven ’workers acceded to his demand and interrupted the digging.

A second phase of work was conducted from May 12, 2009 to May 19, 2009. The workers only received their payment on December 4, 2009 after a delay of 6 months. However, the farm fond project was not completed.

Because the work did not resume, Khirasindhu Sagria, a farmer of the same village helping the villagers, filed a case under the Right to Information (RTI) Act at the Public Information Office of Khariar Block, in October 2009. On November 7, he was informed that more than INR 213,871 (USD 4,700) had already been paid to the workers, which was much more than what was actually paid. The table below summarizes the extent of the misappropriation, which occurred in Kusmal village.

On the other hand, the study of the muster rolls revealed ample manipulations in the names of the workers both in the first and second phase. Names of deceased persons, teachers and students had reportedly been inserted in the muster roll. It is discovered that the difference between the amount declared to have been paid to the workers and the amount they actually received on their bank accounts amounts to INR 178,764 (about USD 4,000). It has been found that this sum was deposited in the accounts of other villagers having job cards issued under the NREGA who have not worked at all. They are relatives and family members of the Gram Sathi, Ms. Mandal.

Name of the workers
payment officially shown in the muster roll amount of wages actually deposited in their account balance
Bidyadhar Majhi 33900 2091 -31809
Nutan sagria 35000 8000 -27000
Renudhar Gahir 30310 - -30310
Sahadev Majhi 34084 4000 -30084
Makarsingh Majhi 35000 5461 -29539
Parakshita Majhi 35000 5000 -30000
Kokil Majhi 10577 10577 -
Total 213871 35129 -178742
Table 1: total amount of payment for fond construction in Kusmal village

 

In addition, the social audit conducted for each project implemented under the NREGS did not reveal any of those anomalies.

 

After it was revealed, the beneficiaries alerted the Block District Officer (BDO), Khariar on January 11, 2010. The BDO, the Vice-Chairman and the Junior Engineer in charge of the project subsequently visited the village on February 25. Arjun Sing Majhi attached to the District Rural Development Agency, Nuapada also visited the village twice. On March 9, a meeting of all the electorates of a revenue village was conducted to discuss the issue. Its recommendations were transmitted to the Police Station.

 

In an attempt to cover up the case, the Junior Engineer in charge of the project reportedly tried to dig the pond himself by using a machine on March 15. The villagers managed to stop him and to hand the machine over to the police.

 

Meanwhile Khirasindhu Sagria and his supporters have been the target of several attacks from Mandal’s family and relatives aiming at preventing him from pushing the case further.

Ms. Mandal first tried to file a false rape case against him in the local police station but after two days the villagers made a Panchayat resolution and filed a counter case in the same police station.

 

On March 19, Mr. Narahari Sagria, Jogeswar Sagria’s elder brother along with five other persons physically abused Khirasindhu and some of his supporters. Earlier that day, Chandan Sagria, another brother of Jogeswar’s attacked some guests from Khasbahal village that Khirasindhu was receiving to discuss of some social issues. Two of them had to be admitted in the hospital. The village leaders managed to convince the guests not to file a complaint against their aggressors. Nevertheless, back in Khariar, Jogeswar and his supporters lodged a complaint against Khirasindhu and two of his guests.

 

The muster roll was signed by the Junior Engineer after field verification and subsequently passed to the Assistant Engineer and the Block District Officer. It is alleged that the mischief could not have developed without collusion between those different officials.

 

A member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, Ashwani Kumar, expressed his concern over the case and promised to launch an investigation. On March 26, the Director, Special Project, (NREGA) Panchayati Raj department, government of Orissa, Bhubaneswar visited the village. The concerned Junior Engineer has been given show cause notice one month to present his defence.

 

Nevertheless, for the moment no impartial investigation has been conducted, the other corrupt officials have not faced any prosecutions and neither did the abused beneficiaries receive any relief nor compensation.

 

The seven beneficiaries abused all own between one and six acres of land. Nevertheless, because of chronic uncertainties in the crop yield, they are all likely to suffer from food insecurity.

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

:

 

According to the human rights defenders in Orissa, 20% of the farm ponds built under the NREGS would not actually exist physically.

 

A few days after this case was exposed, a case of massive misappropriation of NREGS funds was also revealed in Balangir district of Orissa. It was discovered that the Soil Conservation Department had allocated a budget to the tune of INR 202,500 (USD 4100) for the construction of a single farm pond whereas the workers had only received INR 32,000 (USD 700) as wages and even had to pay bribes to the department to get their benefits. Therefore, INR 170,500 (USD 3700) was allegedly misappropriated under this scheme.

 

The AHRC also reported a case of misappropriation of the NREGA wages of illiterate landless workers by a local official working on the project, depriving the workers of their only source of income and seriously jeopardizing their right to food. After the case was reported, the perpetrator was suspended but has been not legally prosecuted and the abused workers have still not recovered the total amount of their wages. For more information please see: AHRC-HAC-005-2010: INDIA: A corrupt supervisor misappropriated the wages of 16 illiterate workers depriving them of their food security and HAU-002-2010

for updates.

 

ADDITIONAL COMMENT

:

 

The NREGS is one of the main public programs aiming at ensuring the food security of the poor in India by guaranteeing 100 days of employment per year to each household willing to do manual work at minimal wage. It has been praised by the UNDP as an important step toward poverty alleviation whereas the actual implement shown in this case and earlier case exposes seriousness of corruption in the programme. Consequently, the government budget aimed at ensuring food security does not completely reach the poor but rather has been continuously extracted by corrupt public servants.

 

The right to food NGO Agragamee, reported that in villages where the NREGA is carried out with ‘even partial consistency’, labourers do not need to migrate to other states to find employment. Nevertheless, the NREGS suffers from rampant corruption that seriously hampers its efficiency. The Chief Justice of India, Justice KG Balakrishnan on a visit to Orissa expressed his concern regarding the extent of corruption in the NREGS, which directly affects its impact on the poor households’ found insecurity.

 

The NREGA rules and guidelines contain a mechanism to ensure the transparency and the accountability of the scheme such as the holding of social audits for each project implemented under the scheme or the nomination of a Junior Engineer to ensure work measurements to ‘check’ if the project followed the NREGA rules and guidelines. Nevertheless, in reality those measures do not entirely prevent corruption.

 

The collusion between the Junior Engineer and the other block officials in this case proves that it is possible to get round those dispositions. The right to food campaign issued a report in 2007 in which it denounced the vulnerability of the NREGS due to the potential collusion between the different Panchayat officials who would therefore basically control all the steps of the project development process.

 

In March 2010, the Rural Development Ministry, in a letter to all state governments asked for criminal proceedings against state officials found ‘guilty of embezzlement’ of NREGA funds, under the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

:

Please write a letter to the authorities listing below asking for the thorough investigation of this case, the prosecution of the perpetrators and protection for those who exposed the corruption.

 

Please be informed that the AHRC also wrote a separate letter to the Chief Justice of India, UNODC, UN Special Rapporteur on right to food, UN Advisory Committee on right to food.

 

To support this appeal, please click here:

 

 

SAMPLE LETTER

:

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Dear __________,

 

INDIA: Another massive misappropriation of the government funds to ensure food security in Orissa

 

Name of victim

:

1. Bidyadhar Majhi

2. Nutan Sagria

3. Renudhar Gahir

4. Sahadev Majhi

5. Makarsingh Majhi

6. Parakshita Majhi

7. Kokil Majhi

Workers whose wages were misappropriated and forced to pay a bribe

8. Khirasindhu Sagria

Human rights defender upon whom the false case is currently charged by the alleged perpetrators

 

Name of alleged perpetrators

:

1. Ms. Rina Mandal, Gram Sathi

2. Mr. Jogeswar Sagria, Rina Mandal’s husband who misappropriated wages, demanded bribes and threatened all the victims

3. Brothers of 2, who threatened the victim 8 and filed a false case against the victim 8 helping other alleged perpetrators

4. Junior Engineer in charge of the project who tried to cover up the case

5. Nuapada Block District Officer who is responsible for the supervision on the project

 

Place of incident

: Kusmal Village, Birighat Panchayat, Nuapada District, Orissa

 

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding another case of misappropriation of INR 178,764 National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) funds in Kusmal Village of Nuapada District of Orissa.

 

According to the information I have received, seven beneficiaries from Kusmal Village were selected by the village council for digging farm ponds on their own land under the NREGS in 2007-2008. A budget amounting to INR 245,000 (USD 5450) was established.

 

The seven workers first worked from May 9, 2008 to May 15, 2008. Nevertheless, Ms. Rina Mandal, the Gram Sathi’s husband, (Mr. Jogeswar Sagria), asked them to stop working by arguing that they could get their wages even without actually digging the farm ponds. I am aware that the Gram Sathi plays a role to look after the project under the NREGA helping a Junior Engineer who is in charge of NREGS project.

 

Jogeswar further asked the workers to pay INR 5000 (USD 100) each. Fearing that he may make use of his influential position to ask the block authority to withdraw their names from the list of beneficiaries, the workers acceded to his demand and interrupted the digging. It is discovered that the workers received their payment on March 25, 2009 hence after a delay of more than 300 days. The farm fond was not completely finished.

 

I am also informed that because the work did not resume, Khirasindhu Sagria, a farmer of the village, filed a case under the Right To Information Act at the Public Information Office of Khariar Block, in October 2009. On November 7, he was informed that more than INR 213,871 had already been paid to the workers.

 

In addition to that, the study of the muster rolls revealed ample manipulations in the names of the labourers both in the first and second phase. Names of dead persons and teachers and students had reportedly been inserted in the muster roll. I am appalled to hear that the difference between the amount declared to have been paid to the workers and the amount they actually received on their bank accounts amounts to INR 178,764. I am told that this sum was deposited in the accounts of other villagers having job cards but who have not worked at all. They are relatives and family members of the Gram Sathi.

 

I wish to draw your attention to the responsibility of several officials in the falsification of the muster roll, since it was redrafted by the Gram Sathi, signed by the Junior Engineer after field verification and subsequently passed to the Assistant Engineer and the Block District Officer. The mischief could not have developed without collusion between those different officials.

 

After this fraud was uncovered, several local officials visited the village, including the Block Officer, the vice chairman, the APD of the District Rural Development Agency, Nuapada. The Director of Special Project, (NREGA) Panchayati Raj department visited the village on March 26. The concerned Junior Engineer has been given show cause notice. He has been given one month to present his defence but no further prosecutions have been launched against the other officials yet.

 

On the contrary, I am very concerned to hear about several attempts to cover up this case. The Junior Engineer in charge of the project reportedly tried to dig up the farm ponds himself with a machine, but was arrested by the villagers who handed the machine over to the police.

 

I am very worried to hear that Khirasindhu Sagria and his supporters have been the target of several attacks from the family and relatives of the Gram Sathi aiming at preventing him from pushing the case further. The Gram Sathi Rina Mandal first tried to file a false rape case against him in the local police station but after two days the villagers made a Panchayat resolution and filed a counter case in the same police station. I am also concern about reports of physical abuse of Khirasindhu and his supporters by Jogeswar Sagria and his relatives on March 19. I am therefore calling for immediate measures to guarantee the protection of this human right defender and for strong actions against those who filed fake cases to hamper the work of those who fight for the accountability of public services.

 

I am therefore urging you to launch an independent investigation into this case of corruption and to see to it that all the officials involved in it will face administrative sanctions and legal prosecutions according to the provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1973 and Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and the requirements of the Rural Development Ministry.

 

The workers should receive adequate compensation both for the delay in the construction of their farm pounds and in the payment of their wages which were delayed once for more than six months.

 

According to the local activists, 20% of the farm ponds built under the NREGS in Orissa do not physically exist. The scale of corruption in food security public programmes is such that it seriously hampers the right to food and right to work of the poor in India. Taking strong action in this case will be a step toward the accountability of the public programmes in India.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

 

1. Mr. Naveen Patnaik

Chief Minister

Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Road

P.O.Bhubaneswar, Dist. Khurda

751001 Orissa

INDIA

E-mail: cmo@ori.nic.in

 

2. Upendra Prasad Singh

Commissioner-cum Secretary

Department of Agriculture

Orissa, INDIA

Fax: +91 674 2393 948

E-mail: agrsec@ori.nic.in

 

3. Mr. Bikram Keshari Arukh

Minister

Ministry of Rural Development

Bhubaneswar, Orissa

INDIA

Fax: +91 674 2536 641

E-mail: rdsec@ori.nic.in

 

4. Ms. Amita Sharma

Joint Secretary (NREGA)

Rural Development Department

New Delhi, INDIA

Fax: +91 11 2338 4703

E-mail: amita712@yahoo.co.uk

 

5. Bishnu Prasad Panda

Collector of Nuapada District

Collectorate

Nuapada Tanwat, Nuapada District

Orissa 766105

INDIA

Fax: +91 6678 223465

E-mail: dm-nuapada@nic.in

 

6. Justice Govind Prasad Mathur

Chairperson

National Human Rights Commission

Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg

New Delhi 110001

INDIA

Fax + 91 11 2338 4863

E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

 

7. Mr. Pratyush Sigha

Commissioner of Central Vigilance Commission

Satarkata Bhavan

A-Block, GPO Complex, INA

New Delhi - 110 023

INDIA

Fax: +91 11 24651010

E-mail: vigilance@nic.in, cvc@nic.in

 

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)

Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

 

Posted on 2010-04-07
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