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Millennium Post

Stop this loot in the name of poor

Once again, a good law has been dealt a sad blow by utter callousness on the part of those in charge of its implementation. MGNREGA, the flagship scheme that guarantees 100 days of employment to the rural poor, has been both abused and criminalised by the inefficient and absolutely corrupt dregs of the system, who, unfortunately, had been tasked with ensuring that the landmark law and the welfare project gets reproduced in a clear and transparent manner. With names of top celebrities and the superrich discovered on the list of ‘beneficiaries’ of MGNREGA, it is evident that social welfare has become yet another name for minting money by those responsible for seeing them through. Not just Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, among other names, have been discovered as part of an RTI disclosure of Goa Development Agency’s nefarious activities, the laundry list of names features the entire families of these megarich elites, who, it is obvious, do not have a clue about this intriguing ‘identity theft.’ It is extremely distressing to see how lack of robust and accountable implementation can drill massive holes into the most sturdy and egalitarian of laws and clearly, the revelations about MGNREGA’s leaky pipes expose the seamy underside of our public distribution system. If the names of top celebrities can be inserted as bogus beneficiaries of a much-needed safeguard against the inconvenient vagaries of our stark, weatherbeaten agricultural sector, one needs to only extrapolate that logic to understand how many such spurious claimants have been included in the government accounts, with absolutely no system in place to countercheck the validity of such counterfeit applicants.

Disconcerting as it is, the UPA government’s good work has been drowned in a great deluge of corruption and inefficiency. But instead of dealing with fraudulence in social welfare and other public schemes with an iron hand, our mealy-mouthed approach to sleaze and systemic dishonesty has only exacerbated the extent of viciousness in the system. So, when the critics of social welfare schemes scream leaky PDS as reason not to legislate such laws, they make a valid, even if misleading, point. When they compare UPA’s pro-people acts to a huge cauldron with thousands of massive holes, thereby becoming both the excuse and evidence of perpetuating the mai-baap culture, they are not completely off the mark. However, instead of attacking the crux of the problem, which is systemic corruption, the critics of welfare economics simply look at the expenditure on the part of the government exchequer, and draw their daggers prematurely. Yet, disclosures such as these add ammunition to their arsenal of cannons aimed at the government edifice to entitle the poor to basic rights and freedom. If the poorest of the poor, who are the intended beneficiaries of the welfare schemes, don’t benefit from such laws, what good are they?  The health of MGNREGA can only be measured against the number of people it has brought out of poverty. Yet corrupt officials, from top to bottom of the bureaucratic and ministerial ladders, have compromised what could have been an exemplar model.
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