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He wanted his wife to also avail of the health insurance provided under the Nirman Shramik Kalyan Yojana, for which the MGNREGA employment card is used as the primary identification tool. He also hoped to provide 100 days of work for the new family by gaining access to the new card.

No new card has been issued to him despite the fact that she applied to the Akhusingi gram panchayat in December last year. To his dismay, he later learned that he had lost his MGNREGA identity. “After I applied for a new card, my name was removed from my parents’ work card. When I approached the officials concerned, they said that re-entering the name along with the linked Aadhaar number is not possible once it is removed from the website. In short, I have lost my right to work under MGNREGA,” Sahu, a plumber, told 101Reporters.

Sahu’s case is no exception. Job cards are marked as duplicates on the MGNREGA website when family members apply for a new card. Once the Aadhaar numbers and account details are linked to a family’s employment card, the website prevents any member of that family from accessing the new card.

The issue stems from the Ministry of Rural Development’s announcement in January making the Aadhaar-based Payment System (ABPS) mandatory for all payments to MGNREGA beneficiaries. Workers have to link their Aadhaar numbers with their work cards and bank accounts to receive payments through ABPS. The earlier directive was to link Aadhaar with active job card holders, but the new directive has made it mandatory to link the Aadhaar numbers of all job card holders.

The deadline for the implementation of the ABPS has been extended for the fifth time – until December 31 from the last established deadline of August 31. In order to meet the deadline, the names of workers in multiple databases are deleted without much thought, leading to a sharp spike in such deletions.

Answering the questions of Congress deputies Gaurav Gogoi and V.K. Srikandan on a 244.3% increase in removal of MGNREGA job cards in the 2022-23 financial year compared to the previous two financial years, Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply on July 25 that more than five million jobs have been removed last financial year.

The reasons given for removal were fake (wrong) work card, duplicate card, reluctance to work, permanent relocation of the family from the gram panchayat or cases where the only person named in the card died.

For example, in Rayagada district in 2021, there were 2,26,151 families with work cards. Over the past three years, 68,864 job cards have been removed, representing a removal rate of over 30%. Similarly, in Rayagada district’s Padmapur block, the number of job cards has come down to 8,230 at present from 15,515 in FY 2021-22.

Aadhaar effect

When Upendra Mandangi of Perupanga village tried to link his Aadhaar-job card and bank account, he got a link success message. However, after a few days, his work card number was no longer on the website. When he tried to register for manual labor, his name was not listed.

“When I complained to the panchayat officials, they told me about an automated process on the site that caused the problem. They said it was out of their control and they had no idea what was causing it,” he added.

Ananda Dandasena of Akhusinga shared a bitter experience. “I have applied for the job but have not received a notification. When I asked the supervisor (associate) why my name was missing from the list, he informed that my Aadhaar number had been automatically removed (unfrozen) from the website.”

Possible solutions

It is safe to say that the mass removal affected many genuine workers as well. The MGNREGA Employment Card serves as the primary identity document in rural areas. They are used to perform Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures at banks and post offices when opening accounts. They are also the main document for registering builders with employment authorities, thus providing them with insurance coverage.

Akhusinghi gram panchayat sarpanch Poornabasi Sabar told 101Reporters that when a family moves to another panchayat, their data should ideally be transferred to the new panchayat. “This process involves deleting job card data, including Aadhaar and bank account numbers, from the old panchayat. Although the MGNREGA website allows entry of new household names, errors are showing when trying to link Aadhaar and account numbers with new job cards in the new panchayat. Therefore, the new panchayat where the beneficiaries have shifted cannot issue new job cards,” he said.

Once the Aadhaar card data is deleted from the MGNREGA website, it cannot be re-entered. According to official sources in the Panchayati Raj department of Rayagada district, earlier it was possible to unfreeze the Aadhaar and account numbers of the deleted job card holders through the login of the district program coordinator. However, last year, the Executive Committee of the Ministry of Rural Affairs removed this possibility.

Utkal Sabar, a social worker from Sandhikhola village, said the central government should give gram panchayats the power to remove job cards as well as the corresponding Aadhaar numbers and account details. This approach will prove useful when people switch to another panchayat.

Noting that job cards are being issued based on data from the Below Poverty Line Survey, 2002, Prabhas Kumar Padhi, a youth leader from Akhusinghe, told 101Reporters that “it’s time to stop issuing job cards based on such outdated data.”

Anil Kumar Parida, a social worker from Bahupadar, said the central government should issue job cards based on Aadhaar data and not BPL 2002 data. “This would ensure seamless creation of cards where account numbers are already linked. This approach will increase rural employment security and livelihoods,” he said.

Social activist Saroj Kumar Desh of Gudiabandha argued that the clear intention of removing job cards and technical errors was to curtail the work of MGNREGA at the grassroots level.

“In the early days of the scheme, the emphasis was on maintaining a 60:40 ratio between labor and material components. Now, with the deployment of technology and the resulting disruptions, job seekers can’t secure even one day’s work,” Dash said. (IANS)

Read: Odisha News

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