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Supreme Court plea wants govt to allow MGNREGA workers to choose how they want their wages paid


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| Photo Credit: E. Lakshmi Narayanan

A plea wants the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to allow workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to choose how they want to be paid their wages, and not impose on them “opaque and cumbersome” payment methods like the Aadhar Based Payments System (ABPS).

The application by the Swaraj Abhiyan, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, said 34.8% of total registered workers (8.9 crore) under MNREGA and 12.7% of active workers (1.8 crore) are still ineligible for ABPS as on December 27, 2023. There are a total of 25.69 crore workers in MGNREGA of whom 14.33 crore are considered to be active workers.

The application said ABPS was a payment with a “number of layers”. For ABPS to work, not only must the worker’s job card and bank account be linked with her Aadhaar, but the bank itself must be linked to the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) mapper through the bank’s Institutional Identification Number (IIN).

Errors in any steps in the ABPS would result in payment failures or rejections. Payment failures could arise due to software mapping failures or other such complicated technological glitches which even officials do not know how to rectify. Different spellings in the job card and in the Aadhaar database could also result in authentication failures. Finally, ABPS payments could get misdirected. This may happen when the Aadhaar number of one person gets mapped to somebody else’s bank account. These are nearly impossible to detect as online data would indicate that the payment had been made, Mr. Bhushan argued.

The application has sought a stay of the government order of January 30, 2023, issued by the Ministry of Rural Development mandating ABPS for all future payments to the MGNREGA.

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“Issue an order or direction to the Central government to ensure that no method of payment of pages to workers or attendance of workers, be made mandatory, that might result in the exclusion of any worker from accessing her statutory right to demand work and to timely payment of pages,” the application sought.

It has also urged the court to direct the government to review the deletions of job cards, put in place an effective redress mechanism for workers to get their job cards reactivated and act against unauthorised or irregular deletions.

The plea said crores of MGNREGA workers across the country have not been paid. Pending wages were piling up along with negative balances in most of the states. Months into the ongoing financial year, MGNREGA has run out of funds and is running a deficit of nearly ₹8,000 crore, it submitted.

In December, the Rural Development Ministry informed the Lok Sabha that the Ministry of Finance had provided an additional ₹10,000 crore advance, instead of the requested ₹28,000 crores, for MGNREGA from Contingency Fund of India.

“This is certain to impact the timely disbursal of payments and allocation of further work,” the application said, highlighting the “suboptimum and irregular implementation of the MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act, 2013”.

This article has been corrected for a factual error



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