The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar appeared to have been caught on the wrong foot inside the assembly on Wednesday, when leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav in assembly claimed inaccuracy in reply to a query about jobs provided under the MGNREGA scheme.
Yadav raised a supplementary question, armed with a print-out of the reply furnished online by the rural development department to his query about the number of people who got jobs under the scheme.
He pointed out that the department’s reply stated that 62.09 lakh applications had been received and more than 99 per cent of applicants got jobs.
“The government has come out with a ‘farji’ (fake) figures. Data uploaded on the MGNREGA website states that in Bihar 1.53 crore applications were received. I wonder how the figure of 62 lakh was arrived at,” Yadav fumed.
He also claimed that as per the website, only 45 lakh people in the state have been given jobs and only 14,590 of them had completed 100 mandays.
BJP member Sanjay Saraogi tried to interject only to be reprimanded by Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, who told him gravely “don’t try to guide the Chair. Don’t commit such a mistake. Your utterances shall not be considered a part of the proceedings”.
Minister for Rural Development Shravan Kumar rose to reply and said “an inquiry will be conducted within a week and if it is found that I have been misled by an official, he will face stern action”.
He also explained that often job card holders were not able to avail of 100 days’ work guaranteed in the scheme as they took up assignments elsewhere.
“We have tried our best to provide employment to the applicants under all circumstances, even when the Covid pandemic had brought economic activity to a grinding halt,” asserted the minister.
Yadav, however, seemed dissatisfied with the reply, and with a rhetorical flourish, he challenged the minister to summon the officials concerned inside the House besides urging the Speaker to treat the government’s submission as “sthagit” (pending).
The Speaker, however, did not agree to the demand and asked the leader of the opposition to have faith in the House and rest assured of a satisfactory reply within the time specified by the minister.
Later, talking to reporters outside the House, Yadav vented some spleen.
“The state of affairs show that this government is running ‘bhagwan bharose’ (God’s mercy). The bureaucrats now have the temerity to furnish the minister with a false reply in the House,” Yadav lamented.
The RJD leader recalled that MGNREGA was launched during the previous UPA government at the Centre in which his father Lalu Prasad was a cabinet minister, and his late party colleague Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was hailed for being the brain behind the job guarantee scheme.
“I smelt a dead rat the moment I read the reply online. How could a state which has such a large population and where unemployment is so high have only 62 lakh applications. And the minister has no idea as to what is the source of this data,” Yadav said.
He also claimed that as per the website, wages paid in Bihar under MGNREGA were ”the lowest in the country”.
“Are we in the House to merely listen to falsities offered by the government? They peddle lies when we raise questions related to people’s issues. If we get aggressive, they start having problems,” said the RJD leader, whose party is often accused by the ruling NDA of using strong-arm tactics.