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‘Stop weaponising technology’: Cong slams govt over Aadhaar-based system in MGNREGA payments

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New Delhi:  With an Aadhaar-based system reportedly becoming mandatory for MGNREGA payments, the Congress on Monday said the Modi government should “stop weaponising technology”, especially Aadhaar, to deny the most vulnerable Indians their social welfare benefits.

The opposition party also condemned it and alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “well-known disdain for MGNREGA has translated into a slew of experiments designed to use technology as a weapon to exclude”.

In a statement, Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said the fifth extension of the deadline set by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to mandate the payments for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) through the Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS) ended on December 31, 2023.

“There are in total 25.69 crore MGNREGA workers of whom 14.33 crore are considered as active workers. As on December 27, 34.8 per cent of total registered workers (8.9 crore) and 12.7 per cent of active workers (1.8 crore) are still ineligible for ABPS,” Ramesh said.

Despite many challenges highlighted by workers, practitioners and researchers in using ABPS for MGNREGA wage payments, the Modi government has continued with its “destructive experiments with technology”, he said.

“This is prime minister’s cruel new year gift to exclude crores of the poorest and marginalised Indians from earning a basic income,” he alleged.

Ramesh pointed out that a statement issued by the MoRD dated August 30, 2023, made certain questionable claims such as job cards will not be deleted on the basis that the worker is not eligible for APBS and that different “stakeholders” in certain “consultations” have found ABPS as the best route for making wage payment.

It also claimed that ABPS helps workers get their wage on time and avoids transaction rejections, Ramesh noted.

“First, since April 2022, an alarming 7.6 crore registered workers were deleted from the system. 1.9 crore registered workers were deleted from the system nine months into the current financial year. Ground verification of deleted workers has shown that a significant number of deletions have been wrongfully done — as a result of the tearing hurry of the Modi government to implement Aadhaar authentication and ABPS,” he alleged.

Ramesh said the ministry must clarify who these “stakeholders” were and when these consultations were held.

“In fact, the Modi government has turned a deaf ear to the multiple concerns from numerous delegations on the implementation of ABPS and other technological interventions,” he claimed.

“The MoRD’s claims regarding the increase in payment efficiency with the ABPS, which remain unsubstantiated, have been thoroughly debunked by a LibTech India working paper. The study analysed 3.2 crore wage transactions to demonstrate that there is no statistically significant difference in the time taken to process account and Aadhaar based payments by the Union government,” he said.

The working paper also shows that the difference in rejection rates between ABPS and the account-based payments is statistically negligible, he added.

“The PM’s well-known disdain for MGNREGA has translated into a slew of experiments designed to use technology as a weapon to exclude — such as the digital attendance (NMMS), ABPS, drone monitoring and the proposed integration of facial recognition to NMMS,” Ramesh alleged.

No due consultation or scientific piloting was done before unleashing these experiments on crores of Indians, he claimed.

“The Indian National Congress reiterates its demand of August 30, 2023, that the Modi government should stop weaponising technology, especially Aadhaar to deny the most vulnerable Indians their social welfare benefits, release delayed wage payments and implement open muster rolls and social audits to improve transparency,” Ramesh said in his statement.

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