With 41% of job card holders under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme still unprepared for Aadhaar-based wage payments, the Union government has extended its deadline to mandate such payments till the end of the year. This is the fifth extension of the deadline so far.
Having reviewed the progress of the Aadhaar-based payment system (ABPS), the Rural Development Ministry on August 30 said that Aadhaar has been seeded and authenticated for 13.34 crore out of a total 14.33 crore active workers, leaving just over one crore, or 18.11% out of the net. This means that 81.89% of active workers — those who have worked at least one day in the last three financial years — are now eligible for ABPS. In fact, in July 2023, about 88.51% of wage payments were made through the ABPS.
The extension, though, was necessitated since out of the 26 crore job card holders under the scheme, 41.1% are still not eligible for this mode, as reported by The Hindu.
ABPS uses a worker’s unique 12-digit Aadhaar number as their financial address. For ABPS, a worker’s Aadhaar details must be seeded to her job card and to her bank account; the worker’s Aadhaar must be mapped with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) database; and finally, the bank’s institutional identification number (IIN) must itself be mapped with the NPCI database.
The Union government has once again argued that ABPS is the best route to avoid wage payment transactions being rejected due to any change in beneficiary bank accounts. They also maintain that it is the best tool to curb “corruption by weeding out fake beneficiaries.”
In its statement, the ministry stressed that no worker will be denied work on the basis of non-availability of Aadhaar number. “If a beneficiary does not demand for work, in such a case her/his status about eligibility for ABPS does not affect the demand for work. Job cards cannot be deleted on the basis of reason that the worker is not eligible for ABPS,”the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Congress demanded that the Narendra Modi-led government must stop its “weaponisation” of Aadhaar. “The Modi government, especially in the case of MGNREGA and soon with pensions and other social welfare benefits, has used it as a weapon to exclude citizens from their guaranteed rights. By making them bear the brunt of its ‘experiments with technology’, the Modi government has hurt the incomes of the most vulnerable and the poorest of the poor,” the party’s communications chief and a former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a statement. The Congress also demanded that open muster rolls should be used and regular social audits done to improve transparency.
Quoting The Hindu news report in a letter to Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said that while there is no significant benefit to using the ABPS so far, there is certainly evidence of significant losses for workers. Ms. Karat also highlighted the challenges that workers are facing with several technological interventions, including the mandatory use of a mobile application for recording attendance.