A statement that has been endorsed by 100 individuals/groups from across the world.
The undersigned demand that the plan to link the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to Aadhaar (or UID) be revoked immediately. This is an extremely dangerous move that threatens to cause havoc in MGNREGA's fragile structure.
The Ministry of Rural Development has put out a tender (dated October 11, 2010) worth Rs.2,162 crore to engage “service providers” for MGNREGA under a “public private partnership” model. The contract includes “UIDAI compliant enrolment of job card holders under MGNREGA scheme,” “Recording ... data in the field such as biometric attendance at worksite with GPS coordinates … and updation of centralised MIS,” and similar measures.
Clearly, the Ministry intends to link the issue of new job cards to UID enrolment in the States. Job cards issued in 2006 are due to expire in 2011. Job cards are required to claim employment under the MGNREGA. If the issue of new job cards is linked to UID enrolment, there is a danger of creating a jam that would disrupt the programme. The process of job cards renewal, in any case a slow process, will be further slowed down. Many people are likely to be denied their entitlement to 100 days of work as they will be without a job card. Further, in spite of the hiring of “service providers”, the entire administrative machinery is likely to be diverted into capturing of biometrics or supervising “service providers”. The scale of MGNREGA works is bound to suffer. This would be a gross injustice to NREGA workers, who are already deprived of their basic entitlements.
The proposal of “biometric attendance at the worksite with GPS coordinates” is completely impractical — many MGNREGA worksites are in remote areas with poor or no connectivity. Does that mean those worksites will close down?
We do welcome the use of technology provided that it enhances transparency, empowers labourers and is cost effective. Such technology has been used with success in Tamil Nadu. For instance, it combines SMS reports on daily attendance with random spot checks to curb the problem of fake muster roll entries. Localised use of biometrics, independent of UID, to speed up payments can be considered. Biometrics and UID are not the same. In Rajasthan, simpler measures have been put in place, such as “transparency walls” where all job card holders in the Gram Panchayat are listed along with days of work, allowing people to monitor implementation.
There are many problems in the implementation of the MGNREGA which need the urgent attention of the Ministry. These include the non-payment of minimum wages, delays in wage payments, insufficient scale of MGNREGA works, discrimination against Dalits and women, and so on.
We therefore demand that neither MGNREGA employment nor wage payments be linked to UID enrolment. Employment of 100 days under MGNREGA is the only universal entitlement that the rural poor enjoy. It should not be jeopardised by the introduction of disruptive technology under pressure from corporate and security lobbies.
Signatories: Nikhil Dey, Aruna Roy and Shankar Singh (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan); Jayati Ghosh (Professor, CESP/SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University); Jean Drèze (Honorary Professor, University of Allahabad); Kamal Mitra Chenoy (Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University); Reetika Khera (Visitor, Centre for Development Economics); R. Ramakumar (Associate Professor, Tata Institute for Social Sciences); Mallika Sarabhai (CRANTI, Citizens Resource and Action Network Initiative) and others.