This Article is From Apr 16, 2013

In Nitish Kumar's Bihar, reality counters claims of development

Gaya, Bihar: At every public platform, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his administration have flaunted economic data to show how effective policies and governance have created a resurgent Bihar.

But how do these claims translate on the ground, particularly for those at the centre of the state's politics?

NDTV travelled to Gaya district, which is hit by drought, and has a large concentration of Mahadalit population.

Mahadalits is a term coined by the chief minister for the poorest and most marginalised among Dalits. For instance, Musahars and Bhuiyas who have a shockingly low literacy rate of 10 per cent.

The spectre of hunger and starvation has haunted numerous villages like Jhalhia in Mohanpur block. Seven years ago, 14 people died when, out of desperation, they ate the rotten meat of a goat that had been buried.

The case led to visits by a stream of officials.

Shama Manjhi, whose husband died, says little has changed for them. "I feed my children with some wild leaves that are eaten by animals. I don't have any source of livelihood. We eat only once a day."

A number of existing schemes provide a social safety net. For instance the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, referred to as MNREGA, that guarantees 100 days of work a year to any rural household.

But in reality the rural jobs scheme is as good as non-existent. They have job cards but no work.

At Pratapi village, Barachatti block, the digging of a pond, a crucial rainwater harvesting project, was launched with great fanfare in July last year. But after a few days of work it was abandoned. Nearly three lakh rupees were withdrawn for the work but work worth only 70,000 rupees was done.

The Block Divisional Officer (BDO) tells us the abandoned project will be taken up this year.

Cases of corruption are numerous. In the same block, money was drawn under MNREGA to connect Manavajod tola with a road. But it was a ghost work as no new road was built.

A resident of the tola said, "In this village, the situation is very critical. There are no roads, no drinking water facility, the wells are dry and there is no facility for irrigation."

In Khajuvatti village, Bodh Gaya block, tree plantation work had been undertaken by women for three months. But till date no one has been paid for their work.

The rozgar sewak is responsible for the scheme's implementation at the gram panchayat level. According to Lalita Devi, Bedamiya Devi and Kanti Devi, the rozgar sewak kept the women's job cards and pass book with him in violation of the rules. He also inflated the number of workers on the muster roll.

The rozgar sewak told us the issues with the flow of funds issues had delayed payments but denied other charges.

Irregularities in the implementation are widespread despite inbuilt monitoring and vigilance mechanism in MNREGA.

Bihar has failed to set up a social audit directorate like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

According to a study, conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security in 100 Dalit villages across the state, about 73 per cent of the wage component of MNREGA fund spent during the last six years had been misappropriated by the implementing authorities.

Activists Jean Dreze, Reetika Khera, Kamayani Swami and Ashish Ranjan say the low scale of MNREGA works in Bihar is a matter of concern. In fact, in terms of MNREGA employment for a rural household, Bihar is one of the worst-performing states, with less than 10 days of work a household a year.

Their survey found that 99 per cent of the people would like MNREGA work for 365 days a year. But work eludes them.