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Aadhaar-Based Wages: ‘Labelling 8.9Cr MGNREGA Workers ‘Ineligible’ Shows Utter Disregard for Poor’

Newsclick Report |
In a statement, NREGA Sangharsh Morcha flays “mixing technology and welfare”, and placing the onus of non-compliance on poor workers.
NREGA and Aadhaar link

Representational image. | Image courtesy: Flickr

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s implementation of mandatory Aadhaar-based wage payments for MGNREGA workers from January 1, will render 8.9 crore rural workers ‘ineligible’, says the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha.

Terming this decision as a “merciless regime’s obsession with mixing technology and welfare, showing utter disregard for the poor, marginalised and working class,” the Morcha, in a statement said this was an onslaught on two basic statutory entitlements of workers – right to work on demand and right to timely wage payments.

In a press statement issued on Thursday, the Morcha condemned the Union government’s move, and pointed out that job cards of 7.6 crore registered workers had already been deleted under the Mahatma Gandhi national Rural Job Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the past two years alone.

“FY 22–23 saw an exponential increase in worker deletions as the MoRD (Ministry of Rural Development) began steps to make ABPS (Aadhar-based payment system) 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,’ read the statement.

Read Also: MGNREGA App: Baton Handed to Workers from Jharkhand in Over Month-Long Protest in Delhi

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said, along with multiple unions, it had held a 60-day dharna last year in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to oppose ABPS and various tech interventions in MGNREGA, “but the MoRD never paid attention”.

The Morcha said there 25.69 crore registered workers under MGNREGA, out of which 14.33 crore were categorised by 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,” it said.

Citing an MoRD press release dated January 1, 2024, it said the government has claimed that Aadhaar seeding of 98.31% ‘active workers’ had 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,” it said.

Highlighting the MoRD’s “strange claim” that "ABPS is applicable only in case a registered beneficiary turns up for wage employment,", the Morcha said 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 pointed out that after years of push for ABPS, 12.5% of ‘active workers’ are still ineligible.

Condemning the blanket mixing of technology and welfare, the Morcha cited another MoRD press release on August 30, 2023 (just ahead of crucial Assembly polls in five states), extending the ABPS deadline to December 31, 2023.

The Ministry had then 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 placing the onus of non-compliance on the poor workers and implementation staff to hide the inefficiency of ABPS,” said the statement.

Reiterating its opposition to ABPS and various tech interventions in MGNREGA, the Morcha said despite several representations, the MoRD has never paid attention to the problems being faced by lakhs of poor workers.

It urged the MoRD to disclose which civil society organisations were consulted, the date of such engagements and the minutes of the meetings.

“In 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,” it added.

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