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Differently Abled Protest ‘Bias’ in Issuing MGNREGA Cards in Tamil Nadu

Sruti MD |
Differently abled workers are made to work for eight hours against the mandated four hours.
The differently abled demand their rights to work and wages under the MGNREGA in Chennai. Image courtesy: Muralidharan Vishwanath.

The differently abled demand their rights to work and wages under the MGNREGA in Chennai. Image courtesy: Muralidharan Vishwanath.

The Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC) has alleged that workers with disabilities under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantees Act (MGNREGA) in Tamil Nadu are being forced to work for eight hours against the mandated four hours and denied the blue identity card, which differentiates them from other workers and makes them eligible for special provisions.

Unlike other states, the Panchayat president signs the MGNREGA identity card in Tamil Nadu. This is the reason that “Panchayat leaders refuse to give work to the differently abled, don’t’ implement the directives and also misbehave with them”, a memorandum submitted by TARATDAC read.

The digital attendance system, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2021, is also not friendly towards the differently abled, the association alleged.

Around 2,000 differently abled persons and caretakers from rural Tamil Nadu protested outside the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj office in Chennai on May 17 pointing out the contradiction in the Act and its implementation in the state.

MGNREGA promises 100-day guaranteed unskilled manual work to every rural adult with an aim to alleviate poverty. Eligible adults are provided a white-coloured MGNREGA job identity card in Tamil Nadu.

Besides the age and place criteria, a PWD certificate is needed for the differently abled, who are eligible for 16 types of work. They are entitled to a blue card to distinguish them from white cardholders.

However, Namburajan, state secretary, TARATDAC, told Newsclick, “The differently abled are given the white cards and made to do all kinds of work for full eight hours in Tamil Nadu. These people are often unaware of these colour markers. Out of the almost 13.5 lakh differently abled persons recognised by the state, 7 to 8 lakh must be above 18 years of age and living in rural Tamil Nadu. But only 28,000 people have been given the blue card.’

Namburajan further said that though it is a national Act, the signing authority for MGNREGA cards is the Panchayat chief. “Tough it is an elected post, the seat is auctioned at many places and the chiefs are only keen on recovering the crores spent during elections. They do not care about implementing laws,” he alleged.

We did a study on how MGNREGA is implemented in other states and found that government officials in neighbouring Kerala and Puducherry are the signing authority. In  Andhra Pradesh, the Panchayat secretary signs the card,” Namburajan added.

With the practice of the Panchayat chief signing the MGNREGA card in Tamil Nadu continuing for a long time, director of rural development Praveen Nair said that it would take time to modify it and promised the protestors that the government would come out with a new set of guidelines.

Online attendance for MGNREGA was made mandatory after the National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) was launched last year. Pointing out the glitches in the system, Namburajan said that if work starts at 9 am, the workers are asked to reach by 7 am to overcome system hiccups. “The software often hangs as workers across the country log in around 9 am. The app wasn’t working in the entire state day before yesterday. Moreover, there is no guarantee of wages for these lost hours and days,” he said.

There is no provision for the differently abled to mark attendance after their four-hour shift is over. “They are made to wait for full eight hours till other workers sign out of the NMMS,” Namburajan said.

Namburajan also said that Nair “accepted that the implementation hurdles cannot overrule the Act. He agreed to modify this practice and ensure the differently abled can sign out after four hours of work”.

There are some special provisions for providing work to the differently abled under MGNREGA. The rural development department passed an order in 2012 and directives in 2018. The protesters demanded that the state government should comply with these rules.

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