Aadhaar-linked pay becomes mandatory for MGNREGS workers

The Centre mandates payment of all MGNREGA wages through an Aadhaar-based system though 34.8% of registered workers and 12.7% of active workers are not eligible; 7.6 crore job cards deleted since April 2022

December 31, 2023 08:09 pm | Updated January 01, 2024 08:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of MGNREGA workers at Purulia West Bengal. File

A view of MGNREGA workers at Purulia West Bengal. File | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

From the New Year, all wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme must be paid through an Aadhaar-based payment system (ABPS), which requires workers’ Aadhaar details to be seeded to their job cards.

The fifth extension of the deadline to make the ABPS mandatory, giving State governments time to reconcile databases, ended on December 31, 2023. Since the first push in this direction, the rate of MGNREGA job card deletions has significantly risen, which activists working in the field say is directly linked to the mandatory imposition of this payment method. 

The first order to enforce ABPS was issued on January 30, 2023, followed by extensions till February 1, March 31, June 30, August 31, and finally December 31. According to the Union Rural Development Ministry’s data, 34.8 % of job card holders still remain ineligible for this mode of payment as on December 27.

Crores of workers still ineligible

Government sources, however, claim that the decision not to extend the deadline again is guided by active workers, rather than job card holders. Active workers are those who have worked for at least one day over the last three financial years. Till December 27, 12.7% of these active workers are still not eligible for ABPS. Of the 25.25 crore registered workers under the flagship rural jobs scheme, 14.35 crore are categorised as active workers. 

According to sources, in its communication making ABPS mandatory, the Ministry has also asked State governments to take a generous view, allowing for cases where linking has not been done for any genuine reason.   

7.6 crore job cards deleted

Anecdotal evidence and ground reports suggest that, facing pressure from the Union government to have 100% ABPS-eligible job cards, States have deleted a number of cards which were not eligible for Aadhaar payments. This includes cases where there were discrepancies between the two documents, the Aadhaar and the job card, such as different spellings of workers’ names. The cards have been deleted citing various reasons, including that the worker was “not willing to work”.

According to LibTech India, a consortium of academics and activists, 7.6 crore workers have been deleted from the system over the last 21 months. “There has been pressure from the Union government to switch to ABPS since April 2022. In the last 21 months, we have seen 7.6 crore workers deleted. This can be largely attributed to ABPS ineligibility, as highlighted in numerous field reports,” Chakradhar Buddha, a senior researcher at Lib Tech India said. The number of workers deleted because of this exercise is far higher than those who will now be ineligible for payment.  

‘Denying right to work’

“Compelling the use of ABPS with more than one-third of the total MNREGA registered workers rendered ineligible will inevitably lead to the denial of the right to work. This stands in direct contravention to the Act passed by the Parliament,” he added. 

Mr. Buddha said that the government should not only revoke the mandatory implementation of ABPS but also direct the States to reinstate erroneously deleted workers and provide due compensation for the loss of work opportunities. 

ABPS uses the worker’s unique 12-digit Aadhaar number as their financial address. Tobe be paid under ABPS, a worker’s Aadhaar details must be seeded to her job card; her Aadhaar details must be seeded to her bank account; her Aadhaar must be mapped with the National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) database; and finally, the bank’s institutional identification number must itself be mapped with the NPCI database. The government contends that ABPS implementation will plug leaks, ensure speedy payments, and reduce rejection. 

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