App mandate slashes MGNREGA budget; Modi govt insensitive to poor: Cong
Jairam Ramesh said that the Ministry of Rural Development has mandated that every MGNREGA worker at 9 crore worksites register their attendance via an app, replacing physical muster rolls
The Congress on Wednesday alleged that the Centre's move to mandate MGNREGA workers to register their attendance through a mobile application is aimed at reducing the budget for the flagship scheme providing employment to the poor, and claimed this is a proof of the Modi government's "insensitivity" towards the disadvantaged.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that the Ministry of Rural Development has mandated that every MGNREGA worker at 9 crore worksites register their attendance via an app, replacing physical muster rolls.
"This move, apparently to increase transparency, will have the exact opposite effect. It will introduce new avenues for corruption. Workers will find it harder to get paid. People without expensive smartphones, especially women and those from marginalised communities, will be disempowered. In sum, it undermines the MGNREGA, a 'sanjeevini' for crores of rural poor," he said in a statement.
He later claimed that the ministry has mandated that every MGNREGA worker at 1.58 crore worksites register their attendance via the app, while the earlier figure quoted (of 9 crore) included worksites which are not active as of date.
"Modi government's latest assault on the poor is a backdoor move to reduce expenditure on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Forcing MGNREGA workers to register their attendance via an app will introduce new avenues of corruption, and disempower women, dalits and adivasis," Ramesh tweeted.
"The Congress calls on the Modi government to scrap the app, compensate all workers who have lost their wages due to technical errors, and strengthen transparency and accountability through open muster rolls and social audits," he said in the statement.
The Congress leader claimed that the app requires the mate at a worksite to record attendance of all workers and take a group photograph at two specified times before and after the work begins.
"Records are only on the mate's phone, and there is no way to verify the group photo. What is worse, MGNREGA payments are linked to measurement of work done, which is completely absent from the app. The new system is not only unfit for purpose, but undermines transparency. Earlier physical muster rolls required each worker to sign, were available to all, and subject to social audit," he said.
The new app has caused workers to be denied work or payment when "the server is down”, Ramesh said, claiming that the workers often wait for hours for the specified time for a group photo.
In addition, all mates must now have smartphones to use the app. People without expensive smartphones especially women, Dalits and adivasis cannot be mates, he said.
"This is a backdoor move by the Modi government to reduce expenditures on MGNREGA. As it is, payments worth Rs 8,450 crore are delayed this financial year, including to the entire state of West Bengal. It also ties with the move to halve food grains to beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). MGNREGA and the NFSA have been the lifelines of the poor through the Modi government's mismanagement of COVID-19 and the economy," the Congress leader said.
He recalled that the nation remembers that Modi mocked MGNREGA in Parliament, and was then forced during the pandemic to make yet another "U-turn" and realise its value.
"The twin assault on these schemes today is a clear sign of Modi's insensitivity to the poorest and most vulnerable Indians," he alleged.