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Exponential rise in rural workers' deletions from MGNREGA 'using' tech-weapons

Counterview Desk 

The civil rights group working among rural workers, NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, in a statement has said that “arbitrary deletion" of 7.6 crore workers woking under the rural jobs guarantee scheme MGNREGA, and labelling another 8.9 crore workers as ‘ineligible’ is nothing but "an onslaught on rural employment guarantee.”
The statement said, “Deletion and issuance of new job cards are routine practices. However, FY 22-23 saw an exponential increase in worker deletions... While job cards of 4.74% of the total workers were deleted in FY 21-22, job cards of nearly 19% of the total workers got deleted in FY 22-23 and 7.72% of the workers in FY 23-24.”

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The two basic statutory entitlements of right to work on demand and right to timely payment of wages is under attack on the compulsory enforcement of Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS) for wage payments in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) from 1st January 2024. NREGA Sangharsh Morcha strongly condemns this merciless regime’s obsession with mixing technology and welfare, showing utter disregard for the poor, marginalised and working class.
There are 25.69 cr registered workers under the MGNREGA. Out of which, 14.33 cr are categorised by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) as active workers. As on 27th December 2023, 34.8% (8.9 crore) of total registered workers and 12.7% (1.8 crore) of active workers are still ineligible for ABPS. This means that none of the 8.9 cr workers will be allowed to work or get wages in MGNREGA.
In a press release dated 1st January 2024, the MoRD claimed that Aadhaar seeding of 98.31% ‘active workers’ have been completed. Against these seeded Aadhaar, only 87.52% ‘active workers’ are now eligible for Aadhaar Based Payment System. This essentially means that even after five extensions over 11 months, 12.5% of ‘active workers’ are still ineligible for ABPS. Further, MoRD’s strange claim that "ABPS is applicable only in case a registered beneficiary turns up for wage employment," after the illegal categorisation of job card holders into 'total workers' and 'active workers' and leaving 8.9 crore legitimate workers disentitled under the scheme, is an absolute mockery of the legislation and crores of rural poor dependent on it.
It is important to note that after many years of relentless push for ABPS, 12.5% of ‘active workers’ are still ineligible. The press release by MoRD dated 30th August 2023, extending the ABPS deadline to 31st December 2023, stated the reason for extension as rejection of transactions arising due to (i) frequent changes in bank account number by the beneficiary (ii) non-updating of the new account number by the Concerned Programme Officer due to non-submission of new account by the beneficiary on time. This shows how the MoRD resorts to conveniently place the onus of non-compliance on the poor workers and implementation staff to hide the inefficiency of ABPS.
Deletion and issuance of new job cards are routine practices. However, FY 22–23 saw an exponential increase in worker deletions as the MoRD began steps to make ABPS mandatory. While job cards of 4.74% of the total workers were deleted in FY 21-22, job cards of nearly 19% of the total workers got deleted in FY 22-23 and 7.72% of the workers in FY 23-24. That is, in the last 2 years alone, job cards of nearly 7.6 crore workers have been deleted many of whom are alive and willing to work. This is akin to decreasing the denominator to make a fraction look good. To mitigate these concerns, the MoRD must release a breakdown of reasons for deletions in FYs 22-23 and 23-34.
Multiple unions took out a 60 days dharna in Delhi and proactively met MoRD to oppose ABPS and various tech interventions in MGNREGA, but the MoRD never paid attention. MoRD must disclose which are the civil society organisations consulted, the date of such engagements and the minutes of the meetings.
In the absence of any evidence to prove the efficiency of ABPS compared to the ‘account based system’ compounded with unprecedented and massive deletions to create an illusion of transparency, the MoRD must take immediate steps to implement social audits and relinquish its tech-weapons.

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