Purulia district in West Bengal, where Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said, people are worse off than those in Orissa's poorest Kalahandi area, has since turned the corner.
The district has provided maximum jobs under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in West Bengal making a dramatic turnaround ever since Rahul ticked it off as the worst NREGA performer.
Purulia has provided the highest number of 39 days of employment to 1.49 lakh families till December last year.
A total of 1319 families have got 100 days of jobs, district administration officials said. "About Rs 70.19 crore (Rs 701.9 million) has been spent behind wage and durable assets creation. It was achieved by a team work of administrative officials, political functionaries and demand for work by the villagers," district magistrate of Purulia Avanindra Singh told PTI.
"Planning, fast payment of wages, transparency, regular monitoring, awareness building among villagers by government and civil society groups and innovation has brought the achievement," he said.
Purulia is chronically plagued with poverty, Maoist insurgency and its high percentage of backward and tribal population is prone to migration of people for work. Gandhi had visited the district in April 2009 for an election campaign.
Officials said NREGA programmes here were meant to create assets like tanks, ponds, irrigation wells, check dams, roads, social forestry, farmland creation and wage employment to the villagers.
Maoist presence has affected eight out of 20 blocks -- Arsha, Bundwan, Jhalda-I, Jhalda-II, Baghmundi, Balarampur, Barabazar and Manbazar-II - in Purulia where the average days of work provided is 38 days this year which was 24 days last year, Singh said.
The two top performing gram panchayats include Garsika which has provided 87 days of works and Baghmundi gram panchayats which have 59 days of work, officials said.
With the Opposition putting up challenge to Left Front-ruled government since Lok Sabha polls, a competition for developmental work among the political functionaries cutting across party lines have emerged here.
"We are always for development. NREGA work in Purulia shows our commitment to develop the district by providing wages and assets to the rural families," Sabhadhipati of Purulia Zilla Parishad Bilasi Bala Sahis said.
A black spot in an otherwise success story is the Arsha block where, Sahis said, "There have been problems in running the management of panchayat samiti in Arsha. As a result plans of work are not coming on time."
Uttam Banerjee, Opposition leader in Zilla Parishad, alleged Communist Party of India-M leaders have been blocking development which they used to do in other places.
Purulia district is perennially affected by migration of people for work to eastern districts like Burdwan, Hoogly during sowing and harvest season.
To stop villagers from going to work with agents in return for advanced salary payment, the project officer of district NREGA Cell, Rahul Mazumdar, said money was disbursed directly to the gram panchayats after regular meetings with bank officials. It helped the villagers to get quick payment.
The gram panchayats which achieved success in NREGA implementation show remarkable level of awareness among the people.
"Apart from the administrative initiatives, several civil society organisations work as watchdog and they helped to aware villagers of NREGA and their rights," DM Singh said.
Innovative methods like the earth work for the main road from Santuri to Koradanga was done by villagers under NREGA but the black top was imparted by funds available from other developmental schemes to meet the need of the people, BDO Santuri Surajit Pal said.
Small patches of barren fields in and around Garsika and Baghmundi have turned green with winter vegetables like potato, tomato, gourd, spinach, onion and mustard and wheat.
Villagers complained of supervisors, who were mostly political appointees, of cheating them by asking to dig more earth while making tanks.