Over a month after digital attendance was made mandatory for MGNREGA workers, a group of them have launched a protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, saying they are being marked absent due to technical glitches and their wages are being deducted.
They have gathered under the banner of the ‘NREGA Sangharsh Morcha’, and are demanding that the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) application be taken back.
They said they started the protest on Tuesday and it will continue for 100 days, with MNREGA workers from different states joining in.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, better known as MGNREGA or NREGA, is a flagship scheme aimed at enhancing livelihood security of rural households by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed employment.
Those protesting at the Jantar Mantar say their demands are basic — guaranteed work and guaranteed payments.
“I am here to ask for work,” said Rekha Devi, who has come to Delhi from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. “Give us NREGA work, or we will not leave.” Asked as to why she is not getting work, she said, “… because of the app, our attendance is not getting marked.” Maheshwari Devi, another MGNREGA worker from Bihar, said they are uncertain whether they would get their wages or not.
“We go to work early in the morning, if the mobile works, the attendance is marked. Many a times after working for the whole day, the attendance does not get marked in the evening, and we do not get paid,” she said.
“We just want 100 days of work, and weekly payments,” she added.
Vikas Kumar from Bihar is a “mate” under the MGNREGA. As the MGNREGA workers mostly do not own smartphones, it is the job of the “NREGA Mate” to upload the attendance. Kumar said while there is a problem with uploading attendance, primarily due to network connectivity issues, it is also almost impossible to rectify the missed attendance.
“The NMMS app does not work. Rural areas have connectivity issues. If attendance is not marked, it is almost impossible to correct it as well. We have given applications, but it does not get rectified,” he said.
At a press conference about the protest, economist Jean Drèze called the attendance system an attack on the scheme. “MGNREGA is under severe attack. The budget for MGNREGA was reduced, and the NMMS app is making the situation worse.” Derez said the new system makes the Aadhar-based payment system mandatory for payment to MGNREGA workers. At present, only 43 percent MGNREGA workers have the Aadhar-based payment system, he said.
“It is shocking that the Rural Development Ministry has made this mandatory. This is as reckless as demonetisation,” he said. He added that there is no evidence that the app-based attendance system will weed out corruption.
Activist Nikhil Dey said the app serves no purpose as payments under the scheme are done as per measurement of the work, and the present system will not be able to check if the work is being done. “This is a violation of the human rights of the workers. In addition, it has been decided to do away with the hard copy of the muster roll,” Dey added.
Activist Yogendra Yadav pointed out delays in payments, and said it discourages people from seeking work.
Digital attendance of workers under the MGNREGA has been made universal by the Centre from January 1, 2023.
In a written reply in Lok Sabha on February 7, Minister of State for Rural Development Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti had said that ‘Mates’ are being encouraged to take the responsibility of capturing the attendance of the workers through the NMMS App and the ministry has been providing training to the states/UTs to ensure smooth transitioning the app.
She said the technical issues being faced are taken up with the NIC, Rural Development, on real time basis and new provisions and suggestions requested by the states are being incorporated.
The minister said all the issues concerning the NMMS application are reviewed and resolved from time to time. She also said complaints can be registered in the complaint register maintained at Gram Panchayat level, Online Central Public Grievance Redressal and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS) or be reported to the ombudsperson at the district level.