Aadhaar-Based Payment System might render more than 1.78 Crores ineligible to enquire for employment. Over 1.78 crore of 14.32 crore active workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have been rendered ineligible to seek jobs following the Centre’s decision to make the Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS) mandatory for payment of wages from 1 January.
A worker is considered active if he/she has worked under the MGNREGS — which guarantees 100 days of work to rural households — for even one day in the past three years. According to information available on the rural development ministry’s MGNREGS portal on 1 January, 1.78 crore active workers are yet to get their ABPS linkage process complete.
Under the ABPS, the Aadhaar number of a worker is linked with his/her MGNREGS job card as well as bank account, which is connected to the National Payments Corporation of India — an umbrella retail payment organisation launched by the Reserve Bank of India in 2008.
Refusing to extend the ABPS implementation deadline for the fifth time, the Union rural development ministry Monday said that exemption from ABPS will be given in case of a technical snag or Aadhaar-related issue till the matter was resolved. The ABPS — introduced in 2017 to ensure timely payments to workers and make the system transparent — was made mandatory by the Centre from 1 February last year.
But the deadline was extended four times, first to 1 April, then to 1 July and 1 September and finally to 31 December, following large-scale protests by workers and requests by states for more time to complete the process. The rural development ministry has now said no further extension will be given for ABPS implementation.
“If any gram panchayat of a district in the state is having either a technical problem or an Aadhaar-related problem, the Government of India may consider exemption from APBS on case-to-case basis till resolution of the issue,” the ministry said in a statement issued Monday evening.
Up to 25.25 crore workers are registered under the MGNREGS, of which 14.32 crore (56.83 percent) are “active”. Of the 14.32 crore active workers, 87.5% (12.54 crore) workers are eligible for ABPS payment and will get work, the ministry added.
The opposition’s reaction to Aadhaar-linked payment
The Centre’s decision to implement the ABPS has been criticised by civil society members and has sparked a political row, with the Congress slamming the Modi government for its “cruel new year gift” and reiterating its demand to “stop weaponising technology to deny the most vulnerable Indians their social welfare benefits”.
The Congress has slammed the government for its “anti-poor decision” and alleged that names of close to 7.6 crore workers have been deleted from the MGNREGS rolls since April 2022.
In a statement issued Monday, Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretary (communications), said: “This is the prime minister’s cruel new year gift to exclude crores of the poorest and marginalised Indians from earning a basic income.”
He alleged that since April 2022, 7.6 crore names of registered workers had been deleted. “(Up to) 1.9 crore registered workers were deleted from the system nine months into the current financial year,” Ramesh stated.
“The Indian National Congress also reiterates its demand of 30 August, 2023, that the Modi government should stop weaponising technology, especially Aadhaar, to deny the most vulnerable Indians their social welfare benefits, release delayed wage payments and implement open muster rolls and social audits to improve transparency,” Ramesh posted on social media.
Denying the allegations, the rural development ministry (without naming Jairam Ramesh) said in its statement: “Since, April 2022 till date, about 2.85 crore job cards have been deleted by following the due process by the states.”
It clarified that the job card of a household can be deleted only in certain specific conditions, but not due to ABPS linkage issues.
“Updation/deletion of job cards is a regular exercise conducted by states/UTs. A job card can be deleted in case it is a fake job card (incorrect job card)/duplicate job card/household not willing to work/family shifted from gram panchayat permanently/single person on job card and that person is expired,” the ministry said.
With the ABPS mandatory now, there are several states where a large number of active workers under the MGNREGS have become ineligible to seek work under the scheme.
According to information available on the MGNREGS portal, Nagaland (20.6 percent), Meghalaya (21.5%) and Assam (48.1%) have less than 50% of active workers eligible for ABPS payments. Kerala is the only state where 100% active workers are eligible for ABPS payment.
Andhra Pradesh (99.1%), Tamil Nadu (97.9%), Himachal Pradesh (96.5%), Tripura (94.5%) and Karnataka (94.5 %) are other states where over 95% workers are eligible for ABPS payment.