MGNREGA workers may get text message confirming their attendance

The move comes after a widespread outcry that, in the absence of a physical muster rolls now replaced by a mobile app, workers have no way of confirming their attendance

May 04, 2023 08:18 pm | Updated May 05, 2023 09:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI

MGNREGA workers during their protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 25, 2023.

MGNREGA workers during their protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 25, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

MGNREGA workers protested when the Centre made it mandatory to digitally capture their attendance using a mobile-based application four months ago, complaining that they had no way of confirming whether their attendance had been accurately recorded until their wages landed in their bank accounts. In response, the Rural Development Ministry is now considering providing a text confirmation of attendance to workers at the end of each work day or the end of one work schedule.

The mobile app for attendance replaced physical muster rolls, causing a widespread outcry from many workers enrolled with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, especially women who comprised 57.4% of workers in 2022-23.

Patchy internet

After a pilot project that began on May 13 last year, where all worksites employing 20 or more workers were directed to record attendance via the National Mobile Monitoring System, the Union Rural Development Ministry made its usage universal from January 1 this year. Many of the aggrieved workers complaining about patchy internet skewing their attendance records, and the opacity of the new system, have been sitting on protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for nearly 60 days now under the umbrella of the Nrega Sangarsh Morcha. 

The attendance recorded on NMMS is uploaded in real time on the central portal for MGNREGA, with the government arguing that this brings in more transparency and aids in controlling corruption. While the government so far is not prepared to roll back the new method, it is ready to add a few tweaks to make it easier for the workers. In a bid to reach out and listen to the complaints, officials from the Ministries of Rural Development and Finance, and the National Informatics Centre met over 60 activists working in the field on May 2, in a meeting chaired by Rural Development Secretary Shailesh Kumar Singh. During the interaction, these problems were again raised. 

Also read: MGNREGS | Over 40% of gram panchayats do not report digital attendance 

Mulling solutions

“We are cognisant of the complaints that the workers have had of not knowing if their attendance is recorded, or of receiving wages for fewer days than they worked for. To fix it, we are looking at the possibility of sending them individually a text message either at the end of their working day or end of the work schedule, detailing their attendance records,” a senior Ministry official said.

The Ministry is now working to collect the mobile numbers of active workers. “The database that we have is outdated, and for us to take this measure, we will have to start from scratch,” the official added.

During the interaction with the 60-odd activists, the government officials conceded that there are some problems with the NMMS application. According to sources, the officials accepted that patchy internet could raise challenges and they are working on offering solutions. Exclusion of workers because of the application or non-payment of wages is not acceptable, they noted. They also conceded that the application’s main thrust to upload real-time, geotagged pictures from the worksites aimed at reducing corruption, fails in its aim, since there is no mechanism as of now to tally the photographs regularly.

“They have assured us that they are working towards fixing all these problems,” said one of the attendees, who did not want to be named. 

Wage info empowers

The significance of having wage-related information was highlighted in a recent study published in the World Bank Economic Review by researchers Upasak Das, Amartya Paul and Mohit Sharma on April 29. The study was conducted in two blocks in Mahbubnagar district in Telangana, for a period of 13 months between November 2017 and November 2018. It found that 86% of respondents who did not have information on their wages were forced to make multiple visits for their wage withdrawals. “On an average, a worker has to make close to three trips before receiving the wage, with about 22% having made more than three visits,” the study points out.  

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