Over the last couple of weeks, MNREGA is back in the spotlight. The Union Minister for Rural Development wrote to certain states regarding potential misuse of funds, and it was announced that rural development schemes are open to CAG audit. In large schemes like MNREGA, officials at all levels of government - central, state, district, block, panchayat - have roles to play. This can make it difficult to locate the responsible authority in case implementation issues arise. We list the responsibilities of different government agencies involved in implementation of MNREGA in the Table below.
|Gram Sabha||(a) recommending works; (b) conducting social audits on implementation every six months; and (c) functioning as a forum for sharing information.|
|Gram Panchayat||(a) planning works; (b) receiving applications for registration; (c) verifying applications; (d) registering households; (e) issuing job cards, (f) receiving applications for employment; (g) issuing detailed receipts; (h) allotting employment within 15 days of application; (i) executing works; (j) maintaining records; (k) convening Gram Sabha for social audit; and (l) monitoring implementation at the village level.|
|Intermediate Panchayat||(a) consolidating Gram Panchayat plans into a Block plan and (b) monitoring and supervision at the block level.|
|Programme Officer (PO)||(a) ensuring work to applicants within 15 days; (b) scrutinising Gram Panchayat annual development plans; (c) consolidating proposals into a Block plan and submitting to intermediate panchayat; (d) matching employment opportunities with demand for work at the Block level; (e) monitoring and supervising implementation; (f) disposing of complaints; (g) ensuring that Gram Sabha conducts social audits; and (h) payment of unemployment allowance.|
|District Panchayat||(a) finalizing district plans and labour budget; and (b) monitoring and supervising at district level.|
|District Programme Coordinator (DPC)||(a) ensuring that the scheme is implemented according to the Act at the district level; (b) information dissemination; (c) training; (d) consolidating block plans into a district plan; (e) ensuring that administrative and technical approval for projects are obtained on time; (f) release and utilisation of funds; (g) ensuring monitoring of works; (h) muster roll verifications; and (i) submitting monthly progress reports.|
|State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC)||(a) advising the state government on implementation; (b) evaluate and monitor implementation; (c) determining the "preferred works" to be taken up; (d) recommending the proposal of works to be submitted to the state government; and (e) prepare an annual report to the state legislature.|
|State Government||(a) wide communication of the scheme; (b) setting up the SEGC; (c) setting up a State Employment Guarantee Fund; (d) ensuring that dedicated personnel are in place for implementation, including Gram Rozgar Sahayak, Programme Officer, and technical staff; (e) ensuring state share of the scheme budget is released on time; (f) delegation of financial and administrative powers to the DPC and Programme Officer if necessary; (g) training; (h) establishing a network of professional agencies for technical support and quality control; (i) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes; and (j) ensuring accountability and transparency.|
|Central Employment Guarantee Council||(a) advising the central government on MNREGA matters; (b) monitoring and evaluating implementation of the Act; and (c) preparing annual reports on implementation and submitting them to Parliament.|
|Ministry of Rural Development||(a) ensuring resource support to states and the CEGC; (b) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes; (c) maintaining and operating the MIS to capture and track data on critical aspects of implementation; (d) assessing the utilization of resources through a set of performance indicators; (e) supporting innovations that help in improving processes towards the achievement of the objectives of the Act; (f) support the use of Information Technology (IT) to increase the efficiency and transparency of the processes as well as improve interface with the public; and (g) ensuring that the implementation of NREGA at all levels is sought to be made transparent and accountable to the public..|
|Source: Operational Guidelines, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Ministry of Rural Development.|
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.