MNREGA wages delayed yet again in Jharkhand due to Aadhaar linking

ICICI Bank had frozen accounts of workers without their knowledge after they had seeded their UIDAI details. Now, the workers are being made to run around to get the payment which is less than ₹3,360

Photo courtesy: Siraj Dutta
Photo courtesy: Siraj Dutta

Ashlin Mathew

Jharkhand has for years attempted to link Aadhaar with the MNREGA wages, but it has been so riddled with oversights and payment delays that every few weeks, a new crisis is unearthed. This time it is from East Singhbhum, bordering West Bengal and Gumla district, near Chhattisgarh.

In Boram block in East Singhbhum there have been more than 250 labourers who have not got their MNREGA since August due to bank delays and seeding of the Aadhaar card to an ICICI account without the knowledge of the workers. A survey is being done in other parts of the district to find the total number. Several workers in Gumla block in Gumla have also been facing similar issues.

Fino Payment Bank had opened almost 16,000 bank accounts in ICICI for almost all of the Boram block’s workers using the NREGA Job Card as the primary identity document in 2012-13. Later in 2018, these accounts were linked to their Aadhaar cards by Fino bank correspondents through the electronic know your customer (e-KYC) process without the workers’ knowledge and then linked at the National Payments Corporation of India. It must be mentioned here that Fino Payments Bank was banned in May 2018 by RBI for being non-compliant with its operational guidelines and was later allowed to open new accounts in October 2018

The Fino bank representative claims that they did take consent for the linking but mostly such ‘consent’ is symbolic as the workers were not told of the reasons and consequences of doing so.

“Many workers already have an account in the local branch of Bank of India (BoI) which they usually operate. In the last two years, NREGA wages of several workers were credited to the ICICI Bank account (through Aadhaar Payment Bridge System), without their knowledge, and not their Bank of India account. This caused hassles and hardships to the workers as they had to make multiple trips to the BoI branch and block office before they learnt that their wages were credited to the ICICI bank accounts,” pointed out Siraj Dutta, who has been working with the Right to Food campaign for more than five years. Dutta has even written a letter to the RBI governor Shaktikanta Das on January 24, 2019, highlighting the issues with both ICICI and Fino Payments Bank.

According to the norms, payments from the government are sent to the last bank account to which the UIDAI number has been attached. And for the workers that ended up being the ICICI Bank account. The ICICI bank branch is more than 40 kilometres away from their village in the nearest town Jamshedpur, while there is a Bank of India branch in their Block.

The irregularities continue even though the issue had been flagged several times. After several rounds to running from panchayat offices to banks — all of which mean days without wages — they found that the wages for August 2018 were credited in ICICI. But when they went to the bank, they found that ICICI had frozen their accounts without informing them.

In December 2018, officials at both the FINO head-office and the ICICI regional office in Ranchi were unsure about the reason for the partial freeze of these accounts, but informed that it could be unfrozen only after successful reverification of the e-KYC norms. Accounts of several workers are yet to be unfrozen because there are discrepancies in the spellings of workers’ names in the ICICI Bank records and their Aadhaar.

Refusing to understand the gravity of delayed payments, Raghvendra of Fino Bank in Ranchi said, “Several cars traverse on a road but there are only a few accidents. Here too only a few haven’t got the payments. Some of the labourers mix cement and after that it becomes difficult to verify their thumbprint. But we go multiple times to ensure everyone gets their payment in three to five days. In case, going to ICICI is difficult, the workers should go to Bank of India and link their account.”

The workers of Dangdut village had submitted a complaint to the block administration on October 30, 2018, but the local administration has not taken any action on these cases. It also must be mentioned that as per the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, workers are to be paid within 15 days of doing the work. In cases of delays, they are to be compensated.

Contrary to Raghavendra’s claims, the workers have not been paid for several months.

However, the Boram Block Development Officer Rakesh Kumar Gope agrees that there have been several delays. “I don’t know the numbers. Some of the labourers have got the payments, but several have not. We are hoping that it will be sorted soon. I will be sending a notice to ICICI bank regarding the delays because a responsibility has to be fixed for the delays.”

Jharkhand labourers get ₹168 for a day’s work and it is one of the lowest in the country. These workers are waiting to get paid for 20 days of work in August, so the maximum amount due to each of them is ₹3,360. And yet they are being made to run from pillar to post to collect these wages. Several workers have stopped enrolling themselves for work under MNREGA due to non-payment of wages.

It is shocking how the government is still relying on Aadhaar to deliver wages and services to the poor.

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Published: 29 Jan 2019, 5:14 PM