Another jumla? Modi fails to link NREGA wages to Aadhar as promised
Despite sustained uproar, the Narendra Modi government's confidence in "cashless economy" is steadfast. And its reliance on Aadhar to this end is total.
So devoted is Modi to Aadhar that earlier this year he fixed 31 December as the deadline to link all MGNREGA accounts with the controversial biometric identification system.
The idea was to bring all NREGA workers under the ambit of Aadhar, apparently to reduce corruption and make payments more transparent.
But latest data obtained from the Ministry of Rural Development, under the RTI, shows that Aadhar-based payment system hasn't been implemented for even 15% of the workers registered under NREGA.
It will, therefore, be a miracle if the target set by the prime minister is met by the end of this year.
According to the MoRD data, last updated on 2 December 2016, for a total of 25.89 crore workers registered under NREGA, Aadhar-based payment has been realised for only 3.68 crore workers, which is just 14.21% of the total.
Among the states that fare worst in making payments through Aadhar-linked accounts are Jammu and Kashmir (where only 0.05% workers' accounts have been linked to Aadhar), Uttar Pradesh (3.93%) and Rajasthan (11.19%).
In many Northeastern states like Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya, the percentages of NREGA workers whose accounts have been linked to Aadhar is nearly zero.
Some of the states where these figures are relatively high are Haryana (29.45%) and Punjab (31.18%).
At the moment, all NREGA payments are made electronically into the bank accounts of workers. But the recently enacted Aadhaar Act mandates that the payments be made only into accounts linked to Aadhar via a central NREGA online database in order to reduce fraud and impersonation.
What do these numbers mean?
NREGA experts whom Catch reached out to said these numbers tell a story of lapses in government policies.
According to social activist Manoj Jha, who has extensively studied and analysed ground reports on NREGA, the information obtained by Catch under the RTI again showed that the underprivileged section of the society was not enrolled in the Aadhar scheme.
"As it has happened over time, for a lot of ignored and underprivileged people in India, having an Aadhar card has come to mean having proof of citizenship. A lot of government benefits are being attached to Aadhar, and for this reason it has become very important for this section. But the manner in which Aadhar scheme has unravelled, it seems that only the cream of our society has got access to this card. And the statistics that you've found show this," he said.
Jha added that while the idea of paying NREGA wages into Aadhar-linked accounts was appreciable in principle, the rate at which it was unfolding was under par.
Social scientist Bela Bhatia said linking accounts to Aadhar in itself would not solve the problem of corruption in payments made to NREGA workers.
"The government did not follow a phase-wise, planned policy in executing the Aadhar scheme and enrolling people, and it has jumped to linking their accounts with their Aadhar numbers. But more important, what we need to remember is that the payments themselves are the end of a whole cycle."
She added that the manner in which payments are calculated and the way the beneficiaries are identified were areas prone to corruption. "These problems will not be solved by introducing Aadhar. There are all kinds of malpractices to weed which out more innovate ways will have to be found out. A uniform policy will not work for everyone."
Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay, who teaches at the India Statistical Institute who has written about the politics of NREGA, said linking Aadhar to payments was a necessity but the pace at which it was happening was quite slow.
"Today all scheme are being rolled out in the form of Direct Benefit Schemes. Since the amounts due to each person are being electronically transferred it makes sense to keep a tab through Aadhar. But this process should be hurried. The pace at which it's being done as you say it is being done is really slow."