New Delhi: State governments across the country have deleted the names of 5.18 crore workers registered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in the financial year 2022-2023.
This represents a 247% increase in deletions compared to the last financial year.
Union rural development minister Giriraj Singh provided these statistics through a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, July 25.
Singh’s reply stated that there were many reasons for the deletions, including “1. fake job card (incorrect job card), 2. duplicate job card, 3. now not willing to work, 4. family shifted from gram panchayat permanently, and 5. single person in job card and the person is expired [sic].”
He was responding to a question by Congress MPs V.K. Sreekandan and Gourav Gogoi asking if it was true that over a crore names had been deleted from the MGNREGS system, and if so, why.
The MGNREGS guarantees 100 days of employment to rural households in the country at specially notified minimum wages.
Work under the scheme involves physical labour and includes activities such as construction, afforestation and land-levelling.
Singh clarified in his response that “system error” was not a defined reason for the deletions.
However, The Hindu reported that a reason for the deletions is that state governments are unable to reconcile differences in the details of registered workers between their MGNREGS job cards and Aadhaar cards.
Labourers have had to link these two cards because the Union government decided earlier this year to route payments for the MGNREGS mandatorily through Aadhaar, India’s biometric identification system.
The Union government has extended its deadline for this ‘Aadhaar-based payment system’ to become compulsory multiple times since January this year.
But these extensions did not stop state governments “racing against the timeline” from “resorting to removing [from the MGNREGS system] … workers who have discrepancies between the two databases,” The Hindu reported last month.
When asked what steps the government was taking to hold low-level officials to account for errors in the MGNREGS, Singh responded on Tuesday that state governments were responsible for properly implementing the scheme.
West Bengal deleted the names of 83.36 lakh workers from the scheme in the last financial year, according to rural development ministry data cited in Singh’s reply.
This is the highest number of deletions by any state for that time period.
One reason for the high number of deletions in West Bengal could be that the state has not received funds from the Union government for the scheme since December 2021, following allegations of corruption and malfeasance on behalf of the state government.
This means the state government is unable to properly compensate its MGNREGS workers.
The MGNREGS is known to provide a safety net for migrant workers and was even hailed as a “saviour” for rural workers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
West Bengal is ruled by the All India Trinamool Congress party, which is in opposition to the BJP.
The state government is owed a total of Rs 2,765.55 crore in MGNREGS wage payments from the Union government as of July 21, minister of state for rural development Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti said in response to a question by DMK MP A.K.P. Chinraj.