The Congress on Wednesday accused the government of "weaponising" Aadhaar and technology to deny the most vulnerable citizens their social welfare benefits and demanded release of payments due to MGNREGA workers.
The opposition party's attack came after the rural development ministry said the progress of Aadhaar-based payment system has been reviewed and the mixed route of wage payment has been extended till December 31 or till further order.
In a statement, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the extension has been given for the fifth time. This has become inevitable because despite four extensions, 41.1% of the total 26 crore job card holders still remain ineligible for this mode of payment, he said. The government had initially ruled out any more extensions as the fourth extension ends on August 31, saying that only 18.3% active workers will become ineligible, he said. Mr. Ramesh alleged that with five state polls around the corner and the widespread outrage, the government is trying to delay the inevitable with its continued "experiments with technology".
"The prime minister's disdain for MNREGA is well-documented. Yet, the Modi government was forced to turn to MGNREGS during the COVID-19 pandemic and even now due to the continuing rural distress, record numbers of workers have demanded work under MGNREGA this year," he said.
To escape its law-mandated responsibility to pay wages to all those who demand work, the government, in the name of improving transparency and efficiency, has repeatedly denied work or wages to MGNREGA workers, he alleged. According to the government's own estimate, more than 2.6 crore active workers would not have been paid their legally mandated wages from September 1, Mr. Ramesh said.
This number does not include the crores of workers who have had their job cards deleted due to various errors of omission and commission, he said.
A working paper released by a public research & advocacy group, Libtech, analyses approximately 3.2 crore wage transactions, spread across 327 blocks in 10 states notes that there is no significant efficiency gain with Aadhaar-based payment system vis-a-vis bank account payments - as there is neither a notable difference in time taken to process payments (39% in 7 days versus 36%), nor an improvement in rejection rates (2.1% versus 2.6%), Mr. Ramesh said.
The paper also notes that massive issues exist with the payments system - wages are being diverted or misdirected to different account holders due to Aadhaar linking errors, and crores of job cards have been deleted as workers are unable to meet the cumbersome Aadhaar-based payment system requirements due to systemic errors and systematic discrimination, he said.
"A large amount of the delay payment compensation due to the workers has not been released yet, nor even acknowledged by the Modi government, despite repeated demands," Mr. Ramesh said, citing the paper.
Aadhaar was introduced by the UPA government as a tool to empower citizens by making it easier for them to access social welfare benefits, he said. 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", Ramesh said. "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," he alleged.
The Congress demands that the Modi government should stop "weaponizing" Aadhaar and technology to deny the most vulnerable citizens their social welfare benefits, release the payments due to MGNREGA workers, and instead implement open muster rolls and social audits to improve transparency, the Congress general secretary said.