[op-ed snap] Fabrication and falsification

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice|Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out oftheir design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of MGNREGA.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the gross violation in the implementation of MGNREGA.


Context

  • A recent study have found that data manipulation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is leading to gross violations in its implementation.

Background

  • At present, crores of people in India are struggling to navigate a host of vulnerabilities to eke out a living.
  • A lack of dignified employment, non-payment of adequate wages on time and insufficient food mean that a poor family remain in a dicey situation and staring at starvation.

Issue

  • In recent years, there have been at least 74 reported starvation deaths, with 60 cases having occurred in the last two years across parts of India; a lot of them have been in Jharkhand.
  • Based on a directive by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the Jharkhand government issued a report on 18 deaths.
  • Hastily produced and in insensitive language, the report concludes that none of these deaths was due to starvation or connected to MGNREGA — a lazy, convenient denial of any correlation.
  • If implemented the proper way, MGNREGA, among other measures, can go a long way in improving the life and the livelihoods of poor.
  • The governments in the State and Centre are demonstrating alarming indifference in this matter and is covering up realities by curating information to suit its false narrative.
  • Such curation starts from suppressing information at the source, to deliberately manipulating and obfuscating data to perpetrate falsehoods.

How the manipulation of information is leading to Ethical and Legal violations?

  • The MGNREGA is a demand-driven programme, i.e., work must be provided within 15 days of demanding work failing which the Centre must pay an unemployment allowance (UA).
  • A UA report is generated but rarely implemented.
  • Numerous ground reports across the country suggest that because of a funds crunch, field functionaries do not even enter the work demanded by labourers in the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS).
  • This is information suppression at the source.
  • Lack of offline alternatives to capture work demand from labourers means that data on the MIS are being treated as the gospel truth.
  • Even this under-registered demand is being dishonoured by the government.
  • Although work demand data (in person days) and employment-generated data are available at a panchayat level, aggregate data at the national level are only presented for employment generated.
  • Thus, under-registered national demand is captured but intentionally not reported.
  • By doing this, the Central government is trying to hide its violation of the extent of under-provision of work.

Key findings of the study

  • To estimate the extent of under-provision,work demand and employment generated for over 5,700 panchayats across 20 States (for 2017-18 and the first three quarters of 2018-19) was analysed.
  • It was found that this year, the employment generated was about 33% lower than the registered work demand, and last year, about 30% lower.
  • If this large-sample trend holds true for the country, then a conservative minimal allocation required this year is about ₹85,000 crore.
  • After 99% of the original allocation got exhausted earlier this month, 250 Members of Parliament and citizens wrote to the Prime Minister, following which the Centre’s revised allocation now stands at a paltry ₹61,084 crore.
  • Despite this revision, 16 States still show a negative balance which shows the continued lack of funds.
  • Further, the Centre’s oft-repeated claims of the “highest ever allocation” are dubious and meaningless because if the allocation does not honour work demand, as is the case here, it is a violation of the Act.

Government’s manipulation of data causing more problem

  • Contrary to the Central government’s claims of there being more than 90% payments on time, the study found of more than 9 million transactions that only 21% payments were made on time in 2016-17.The trend continued in 2017-18.
  • Further, the Central government alone was causing an average delay of over 50 days in the disbursement of wages to labourers.
  • The mandate is to pay wages within 15 days else workers are entitled to a delay compensation.
  • While this delay by the Central government (called stage 2 delays) is captured in the system, it is intentionally suppressed to avoid paying delay compensation which is another violation of the Act.

A case of insensitivity

  • The Union Ministry of Finance in Aug,2017 acknowledged the accuracy of the study’s findings and stated that delays in payments were directly linked to lack of “[un]availability of funds”.
  • This glaring lacuna was argued in the Supreme Court in a recent PIL (Swaraj Abhiyan vs. Union of India) where the judgement categorically stated: “The wages due to the worker in terms of Stage 2 above must be transferred immediately and the payment made to the worker forthwith failing which the prescribed compensation would have to be paid.
  • The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility… The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty”.
  • In court, the Central government, agreed to calculate Stage 2 delays, and pay compensation, but the judgement (dated May 18, 2018) has still not been implemented.
  • This not only reflects contempt of court by the Central government but is also an insensitive assault on people and a deliberate hiding of the truth.
  • In the process, countless lives are getting silently buried in fabricated statistics.

Way Forward

  • Such falsification and a manipulation of information by the government is increasing starvation and agrarian distress in India, and isleading to a gross violation of the MGNREG Act.
MGNREGA Scheme
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