Over 50 million job cards of MGNREGA workers deleted in 2022-23; 7.4 million this financial year

Names are deleted without the knowledge of workers or following proper procedure, claim activists

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 11 July 2023
Registered workers with job cards are mandated to receive 100 days of work under MGNREGA, which is a lifeline for rural areas. Photo: iStock__

The names of a record 50 million people registered for job cards under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) were deleted in the financial year 2022-23. This financial year, over 7.4 million job cards have been deleted so far. The massive deletion of job cards outstrips the previous five years in total. 

The government deleted 51,771,976 job cards in 2022-23, shows the Management Information System (MIS) for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

In 2021-22, the number of deletions were 14,951,917. While in 2020-21 and pre-pandemic 2019-20, the numbers stood at 9,724,539 and 5,228,589, respectively. 

Read more: Threadbare clothes, school drop outs due to lack of uniforms: West Bengal MGNREGA workers’ lives in tatters

The deletions are likely due to non-linkage of job cards with Aadhaar cards, said Chakradhar Buddha, a researcher with LibTech India, a platform for social workers, engineers and social scientists working toward improvement of public service delivery. 

Implemented in January 2023, the system demands workers’ job cards be linked with their bank accounts and Aadhaar cards as per traditional practise. However, in addition, it demands the accounts be merged with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) mapper.

The new system then recognises the Aadhaar card as a financial address and sends money to the “last Aadhaar-linked account”.

The process is cumbersome and requires strict compliance with  Know Your Customer (KYC) and e-KYC guidelines, Buddha said. “A majority of the workers are uneducated and unaware of these procedures. The people registering the names often make mistakes, which do not end up matching with the bank passbook and Aadhar card,” he explained. 

The MIS of the rural ministry showed that 50 per cent of the MGNREGS workers are ineligible for ABPS. “This is a big number and removing these people from the system is unconstitutional by law,” he said.

Citing an example, Buddha said, “For instance, Ramesh Bhai Manglabahai Machhar, an Adivasi worker from Surpur panchayat of Dahod district in Gujarat worked for seven days in 2022-23, but his name got deleted in the current financial year.”

Accessing the papers from Machhar, Buddha said the reason mentioned was “unwilling to work”. “But Machhar assures me that no official approached him seeking his permission or confirming whether he wants to continue working or not,” he added.

Such cases are observed in other states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand too. “Our teams have been surveying these areas and noting discrepancies. We have noted over 2,000 cases so far and are analysing wrongful deletions,” he told Down To Earth

Read more: No money to fix leaky roofs, MGNREGS workers in West Bengal fear upcoming monsoon

In some cases, where the workers questioned the deletion of names, the officials replied that their names would be included in the next list or muster roll, but without a definite timeline.

The standard operating procedure for deletions are also not being followed by the officials, claimed Buddha.

“As per the rules, the master circular of the deletion has to be examined by sharing it with Gram Sabha. Only after the confirmation from Gram Sabha should the names be deleted, but officials are not approaching the local governing body,” he said.

The volunteers have also found that the deletions are being done with the knowledge and understanding of the district authorities.

“In Telangana, the block level officer deleted some workers’ names as their ABPS process was not complete and district officials informed that the deleted names would be dealt with separately later on,” Buddha said.

Such an act is possible as there is no accountability for the deletion of names, he said. “There is no document or signature to taken for the confirmation,” he said.

”Such instances are also seen in Public Distribution System where names of beneficiaries are inadvertently removed without their knowledge,” said Coordinator forRight to Food Campaign Raj Shekhar.

It is stripping the workers of opportunities and rights, he said, adding that there is no transparency and accountability and workers have no mechanism to address their grievances on the ground to resolve them.

The deletion of names deprives rural workers of their right to work, said Ashok Pankaj, a professor at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi. Many people apply for job cards as proof or a contingency for the future.

“If a job card is deleted, the villagers cannot access work under the scheme. It was seen during the pandemic that many looking to work did not have job cards and the government had to disburse them in mission mode,” Pankaj said.

Many financially stable farmers who may have never used MGNREGS had job cards as a government document or safety for future, if their finances worsen, Pankaj’s early field work at Nalanda, Bihar had shown him. 

“The election commission allows you to cast a vote using the document as it is a government proof of identity. Such rights are termed invalid if their names are deleted. There is no harm for the government to let the job cards be valid instead of deleting the names,” Pankaj further said.

Read more: Central funds freeze: MGNREGA workers in West Bengal trapped in vicious cycle of illness and poverty

The cards are is an instrument of entitlement and should not lapse at any time. “For instance, if a family loses an earning member, the job cards will become a saviour in tough times. It would be wrong to expect the family to run from pillar to post procuring the job card for seeking work for daily earnings,” he added.

Regarding the issue of linking the job cards with ABPS, Pankaj said that rather than deleting the names, the government should expedite efforts to include these people in the system.  

“The ministry should launch a drive to ensure that the names are corrected as required in the ABPS and seeding of the names is done. Implementing ABPS without ensuring that people will be included will create problems,” he said, adding that including the workers in the system will actually empower them, which is the real spirit of MGNREGA.

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