Massive scam involving National/ Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission, investigation demanded

Jayanta Debnath

In order to reduce the rural distress and agricultural problems in the country , the government of India had launched the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 2009. This was implemented in Tripura under the nomenclature of Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission (TRLM) since the year 2012 under a registered society . But the key component of the scheme , engagement of National Resource Persons (NRPs) mooted by the corrupt ministerial caucus, became a major source of corruption . A syndicate of NRPs mostly ex - members of a  Delhi based national level NGO became operative and started fleecing money , practically doing nothing , specially in Tripura. This has been going on for seven years now.

The  National Resource Persons (NRPs) had  the mandate to help SRLMs increase the capacity in different areas of interventions through training, capacity building, assistance in agri market linkages and various other institutional development activities. However, the objectives of having the NRPs is not to replace the core strength of respective States but to provide need based critical support to the respective SRLMs. Respective SRLMs are mandated to develop their own competence and their own team for rolling out various activities of the mission.

A  fiasco enacted by the NRPs were the car vendors, hotel owners and food suppliers. Since its inception, a team of NRPs started assisting TRLM based on the premise that they will provide need based expert support but TRLM has had to develop its own competency as soon as possible. Unfortunately what started happening since its inception is a bit shocking?

TRLM since its inception became overtly and highly dependent on a select group of NRPs. The then Government and one of the then longest serving CEOs (who retired in January, 2019) never bothered to develop the inner competence of TRLM as an organization and depended on this small group of NRPs even for smallest of the ideas. The result was that a sizeable portion of the allocated budget to the TRLM from the Centre used to get siphoned back every year to people coming from outside the state in the name of training, many a time those training being very frivolous and that too provided by NRPs who in many cased did no work.

In other words, we talk about section of the politicians; govt. officials etc. to be corrupt but if one needs an example of how a bunch of few common individuals (Aam Admi) can take huge advantage of the system and loot public money continuously for the last 5 to 6 years, then TRLM can be easily a case study and an example before the Country. The previous left govt. in Tripura, as we all know, was  miles away from Good Governance and in fact wasted an wonderful opportunity to provide earning sources to hundreds of qualified people from the State by not roping them in as trainers. Whereas the NRPs are actually a bunch of ill qualified, incompetent jobless people (mostly ex members  from a Delhi based NGO) who made a syndicate in Delhi and were providing services to TRLM and few other NE States taking advantage of the incompetence, lack of knowledge and inefficiency of some of the State Govt. Officials.

As a matter of fact, many of the successful and competent State Rural livelihood Missions of the bigger states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, the Southern States, the Western States hardly use the services of NRPs and instead have developed their own resources people from within the State who can speak the local language to the rural people, knows about the socio-cultural aspects of the rural people of the respective States and can connect better with them. Unfortunately for Tripura, these select group of NRPs who saw a wonderful market for training in TRLM used to fly down from outside States every month, speak in languages which the poor and less literate people in villages could not properly understand and find a socio cultural connect with these NRPs. NRPs are in fact not supposed to go much to the field level unless critically needed.

What happened in the process was that a bunch of NRPs (may be about 8 to 10 of them), couple of contractual staff in TRLM state team (who have been there for the last 6 years and now have developed an illusion that they are actually permanent Govt. employees) have conveniently for the last five years caused huge wastage of money which is no less than a scam!

They do not have  necessary competence or were not adequately qualified. NRPs with engineering, bachelor of arts etc. background used to give trainings on a range of very serious and highly technical topics in domain of agriculture sciences.
A time came when TRLM actually turned into NRP Livelihood Mission relegating the mission into almost a joke at the cost of tax payers money! Many people say that at times TRLM appeared to be an organization of only 'Meeting-Eating-Training' with no significant work at the field level. The energetic and young staff at the district level and block level were mostly engaged in either attending training or arranging training programs. The select group of NRPs usurped all management activities and started dictating what needs to be done or not done to the State Mission Staff. Couple of contractual State Mission Staff also started playing to their tunes. This coterie of NRPs, couple of contractual State Mission Management Staff and an incompetent CEO made sure that crores of rupees allocated to Tripura actually gets wasted and flows back outside the state to the pockets of some NRPs every year in the name of training. The only stakeholders from within the State who benefitted significantly from this are the incompetent NRPs and a few corrupt government staff.

The magnitude of the scam can be gauged if someone compiles the cumulative expenditure of the last five years TRLM in four heads, namely
1. Amount spent in hiring of vehicles by TRLM
2. Amount spent in payment to hotels for accommodation of NRPs
3. Amount spent in air fare of NRPs flying from outside State
4. Amount spent as professional fees to NRPs
This would give an idea about the percentage expenditure of the total central amount received from NRLM by TRLM vis-a-vis extent of attaining actual objectives.
Also, questions need to asked whether with the money being misused so far, if hundreds of young people passing out from TU and other institutes within Tripura could have been provided with earning source by engaging them in giving training and capacity building which the NRPs have been giving all these years involving a huge unnecessary expenditure. This was an opportunity lost by the earlier Government and the present Government should cease this opportunity for the interest of the people of the State.

It appears that the CM and Deputy CM (who is also the Minister of Rural Development) have been sensitized about the misgovernance that was going on in TRLM all these years. The current Government seems to be taking specific steps to reorganize and revitalise TRLM. Unfortunately past 6 years was too long a time and the rot has become too deep. Only some drastic measures and out of the box thinking can do justice related to the interest of the innocent and poor people of Tripura vis-a-vis TRLM.

The district level and the block level team of hardworking young people of Tripura can continue working and be paid from TRLMs remaining fund. They can be utilized very well as vibrant brigade of extension staff of Agri/horti/animal husbandry department in respective blocks/districts. They can also be roped in for field level market linkage for farmers and farm level small entrepreneurs. Thus Tripura's share of NRLM money can be utilised for a better Return on Investment. In the process Tripura can showcase a radical way and model of Governance before the whole Country.

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