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NREGS tell-tale: empty ponds, empty promises in Haryana

NREGS tell-tale: empty ponds, empty promises in Haryana

Author: Dinker Vashisht
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 20, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/nregs-telltale-empty-ponds-empty-promises-in-haryana/436730/

Widespread poverty in the villages of largely arid Mahendergarh district of Haryana ensured that it was the first district to be brought under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) when it was introduced in the state in February 2006. In view of an acute water shortage, the scheme mainly targeted digging of ponds. But three years hence, the water shortage and poverty remain as pronounced, and the ponds are testaments to implementation failure.

These ponds, constructed at a cost of Rs 8.37 crore in 2006-08, are without water. An example is that of Madhogarh village. The water scarcity problem of the village stemmed from the inability of its existing pond to store water (it would gradually seep through). In 2008, a new pond was constructed under the NREGS, but its water storage capacity is limited to the monsoon months of June and July (when there is no paucity of water in the older pond).

The fact that 80 per cent of the total expenditure was incurred on material and masonry led the director, Rural Development, to remark during his inspection that "it was not a pond but a swimming pool"; a swimming pool without water at that. The villagers' suggestion that the money be instead spent on repairing the existing canal which still has a better surface than the new one, was ignored.

The villagers' opinion was also ignored at Talwarakhurd village of Sirsa district, where it was brought to the authorities' notice that there was no need for a new pond as there were already three in the village. Ditto for Ganga village, where digging of nine new ponds was approved despite the fact that two existed already.

A recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has described this expenditure as "without planning and infructuous". As Jagbans Singh, Accountant General (Audit), Haryana, says, "While approving these ponds, some basic factors like whether they are required or not, what is the source of water etc were not taken into account. Inexplicably, the opinion of the engineer-in-chief of the Irrigation Department was not respected either. He duly intimated the Revenue Department that the area was undulating and sandy, so construction of pucca water courses with pipes would be required for filling these ponds with water, for which additional financial assistance was never approved. Today, ponds dug in 10 villages are without water."

An illustration of how even the most basic of checks was ignored is that of Nagina village in Mewat district, where a pond was constructed on a site which was already given on lease to a person for fish farming for a period of 10 years.

Villagers admit that they did find work but the eventual benefit wasn't long lasting. As one of the members of the Madhogarh panchayat says, "We had other privations too. For example, we have an old fort and a temple on the hilltop which did not have a road for a long time. Now the Forest Department is constructing the road as Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhary is supposed to visit that site in the run up to the election for her daughter who is expected to contest from here. This road could have been constructed under the NREGS or they could have actually spent money on the earlier pond by removing its seepage. Today we are in a hopeless situation. The water situation hasn't improved and no NREGS project has come after that, so villagers are without work."

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