Enacted on August 25, 2005, and operational since February 2, 2006, The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is a popular social welfare initiative ensures 100 days of employment annually for rural households. In a noteworthy move toward digitalization, MGNREGA wage disbursements have shifted entirely to a digital platform, employing Aadhaar authentication.
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The digitisation of MGNREGA wage payments through Aadhaar is a bold step towards modernising India’s welfare schemes, but it faces serious challenges in its implementation. Discuss. (10 Marks, 150 Words).
- Launched in 2005 by the Ministry of Rural Development, MGNREGA stands as one of the world’s largest work guarantee programs.
- The primary aim of this initiative is to ensure 100 days of employment each financial year for adult members of any rural household willing to engage in unskilled manual work related to public projects. As of 2022-23, there are 15.4 crore active workers enrolled in MGNREGA.
- In contrast to previous employment guarantee schemes, this act adopts a rights-based framework to address the root causes of chronic poverty.
- The legislation stipulates that at least one-third of the beneficiaries must be women. Furthermore, wages must adhere to the statutory minimum wages specified for agricultural laborers in the state, as per the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
- A distinctive feature of MGNREGA is its legally-backed guarantee, ensuring that any rural adult demanding work receives employment within 15 days.
- Failure to provide work within this period mandates the payment of an ‘unemployment allowance.’ This demand-driven approach allows for the self-selection of workers.
- MGNREGA places significant emphasis on strengthening decentralization processes, assigning a substantial role to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in planning and executing public works.
- The legislation mandates Gram Sabhas to recommend the projects to be undertaken, with at least 50% of the works executed by them.
Need for the Digitisation of MGNREGA Wage Payments:
- The recent shift to digital payments aligns with the broader agenda of the Modi Government, aiming to promote a cashless economy and enhance transparency in welfare schemes.
- The primary focus of this digital transformation is the authentication of MGNREGA workers using their Aadhaar details. Aadhaar, India’s unique identification system, incorporates biometric and demographic information, offering a secure and verifiable means of identification.
- By associating MGNREGA payments with Aadhaar, the Government aims to eradicate fund leakages, diminish corruption, and ensure direct and prompt disbursement of wages to the designated recipients. The digital trail enables real-time monitoring of payments, ensuring accountability.
- The shift to Aadhaar-based payments simplifies the distribution of wages, guaranteeing direct fund transfer to workers’ bank accounts, thereby eliminating intermediaries and reducing delays.
- Through the Aadhaar authentication system, the Government seeks to seal loopholes in the system to prevent the misuse or diversion of funds.
Challenges in Implementation:
- Despite its commendable objectives, MGNREGA has encountered challenges, including reported fund leakages and instances of corruption. Leakages involve the diversion or misallocation of funds meant for the program, resulting in inefficiencies.
- Reports have highlighted issues such as phantom workers, fraudulent job cards, and irregularities in implementation.
- Connecting MGNREGA payments to Aadhaar raises privacy concerns due to the collection of sensitive biometric and personal information within the unique identification system. The potential misuse of this data has sparked significant controversy.
- Opposition voices express apprehension about the risk of excluding eligible workers who lack Aadhaar cards or face authentication issues, potentially denying essential employment benefits to those in need.
- Additionally, the digital gap in rural areas, characterized by limited internet connectivity and technological literacy, poses a formidable challenge. As per a June report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the nation witnessed an increase in wireless subscribers, reaching over 1,160 million in February 2020, compared to 1,010 million in February 2016.
- This marks a growth of 150 million subscribers over a five-year period, averaging 30 million per year. The expansion has been uniform in both urban and rural areas, with urban subscribers rising by 74 million (from 579 million to 643 million) and rural subscribers by 86 million (from 431 million to 517 million).
Nevertheless, the digitization of MGNREGA wage payments through Aadhaar represents a bold move toward modernizing India’s welfare schemes. The Government’s response to concerns raised by the Opposition and civil society will shape the success and acceptance of this transformative initiative.