MGNREGA Workers on Indefinite Strike Against Mandatory Use of App-Based Payment System
Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: Several Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MNREGA) workers are protesting in Jantar Mantar against the mandatory use of an app-based attendance system, which has mounted problems for such workers across the country.
The protest, under the banner of MGNREGA Sangharsh Morcha, saw workers saying they were already facing numerous challenges, including delayed payments, but the app had made matters worse.
Phool Kumari Devi (30), a worker from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, told NewsClick: "I have been working under MGNREGA for the past seven years. We used to have a manual enrolment system. The payment was late but still we had data recording our work. But this year, the government has made the app-based payment system mandatory. There are a lot of problems with the app, including the fact that it is incapable of registering the attendance of a large number of workers. Even if the attendance is successfully recorded, the data doesn't appear in the system even after a few days. This has created a big problem for us (with regard to wages)."
She alleged that she and many other workers in her region had not received payments because the app failed to display work- days.
As per the new government directive, all MGNREGA workers have to register their attendance through the National Mobile Monitoring App (NMMS). Even though this new feature was announced by the government last May, it was implemented this January.
The app is proving to be a huge setback for a large number of rural workers, a majority of whom are women. In the latest figures from the Ministry of Rural Development, women account for 57.8% of the scheme's workforce.
Workers at the protest also criticised the app for delaying the attendance process, and pointed out the issue of not maintaining workers' records, even after a successful online attendance.
Pinki Kumari (36), a MGNREGA worker, told NewsClick that the process of marking attendance with the app had delayed the attendance process.
"We reach the site by 9 in the morning. Due to a poor internet connection, the website doesn't always open. If there are, let's say, more than 100 workers, then it just takes the attendance of 50-60 and leaves out the remaining 40. By 11-12 a.m, the website shuts down, which means the remaining workers cannot even work anywhere else. This leaves them with no option but to sit at home. And this happens frequently,” she said.
Workers said another directive has been creating havoc. On January 30, 2023, the Ministry of Rural Development made an announcement stating that from February 1, 2023, there an Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS) will be implemented for all payments to MGNREGA workers. In its notification, the Ministry requested all UT/states to make payments to workers using no other payment mode but ABPS.
According to an expert, the introduction of the Aadhaar-based payment system will be a disaster, as a large number of workers do not have Aadhaar cards. They see these tactics by the government gradually diminish MGNREGA.
"The sites where these women work are sometimes dense forests, where network is a big issue. Due to this, the workers are working but their attendance is not being marked properly. There are times when the app doesn't reflect the stored data after a few days, making it difficult for workers to keep up with their work. As of now, the government is already in debt for the account-based payment system used for MGNREGA workers. Now, this app-based system has found another way of not paying the workers," said Ayesha, a social worker.
On the issue of ABPS, she alleged that the government's own data shows that only 43% of MGNREGA workers were eligible for ABPS. However, the actual number is much higher than the government-provided number.
In its Union budget this year, the government allocated Rs 60,000 crore for the next financial year from Rs 89,400 crore in 2022-23. Compared with 2021-22 and 2022-23, when the spending was Rs 98,468 crore and Rs 89,400 crore, this is the lowest in two years.
After being criticised a lot by various social and workers' organisations over the massive cut in MGNREGA allocation, the Ministry of Rural Development responded to concerns about the low budget and glitches in the NMMS app in its response to Indiaspend.com. The ministry claimed that the MGNREGA budget was adequate and that supplementary funds would be made available later in the year. It also stated that all issues concerning the NMMS app are resolved from time to time, and no significant problems have been reported during its implementation.
Soon after this claim by the government, the MGNREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a national collective of trade unions, workers' unions and platforms had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi refuting its claims and highlighting the serious problems that workers were facing.
Sanjay Sahani, a social worker associated with the Morcha, told NewsClick: "Due to the lockdown, employment has almost vanished. People do not have any other job options. In this scenario, (MG)NREGA has become so important. Most rural workers today depend on this scheme. The government's budget is not even going to be sufficient for two months. This budget cut will have a massive impact on rural employment."
Meanwhile, the Morcha said its protest would continue until the government scraps NMMS.
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