Want to know what Deepika Padukone does? She is a migrant labourer in a village in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district – this is what a MNREGA job card carrying her photograph would tell you.
Fake MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) cards issued in the name of Sonu Shantilal, Manoj Dubey and nearly a dozen other villagers, but carrying glamorous photos of Padukone and at least 10 other film stars and celebrities, have been circulating and claiming wages from Peeparkheda Naka village in the Jhirnia panchayat.
This is the same district panchayat — Jhirnia — that was praised for having paid out 100 per cent of allotted wages for employment under the MNREGA scheme.
District officials believe lakhs of rupees have been claimed on these fake cards as wages for activities that were never undertaken in the first place; for example, according to the cards Sonu Shantilal was paid for building a drain near his village.
The CEO of the district panchayat has ordered an inquiry into how these cards were printed and wages released. “Action will be taken against the guilty,” he said.
“Information on 11 job cards with pictures of celebrities has come to my notice. In the last few days large amounts of money have been withdrawn and muster rolls filled. We will find out how the job cards were issued and how these pictures were taken. Action will be taken against whoever is found guilty in the investigation,” Gaurav Banal said.
Other cards have been paid for digging ponds and repairing canals. A sum of ₹30,000 has been withdrawn every month against a card in Dubey’s name.
Shantilal and others whose names are on these fake cards say they have no idea how this happened. According to Shantilal and Dubey, neither has claimed a single day’s work. Dubey, in fact, claims 50 acres of farmland and says he never had a MNREGA job card made.
“I don’t know how this card was made. They replaced my wife’s picture with Deepika’s,” Sonu Shantilal said, alleging that the panchayat secretary and employment assistant were involved in committing this fraud.
In 2017, the government cancelled nearly a crore of fake ‘job cards’ in the MGNREGA scheme, plugging a major source of fund leakage in one of the world’s biggest employment guarantee programmes, officials said.
The job scheme became a bone of contention between the Congress and the BJP, with the latter accusing the Congress of plundering government money in an ill-conceived scheme.
As the government has renewed its focus on the rural and farm sectors, it has directed officials to ensure transparency and accountability on MGNREGA.