Context: The new National Mobile Monitoring Software application has problems that are eroding the right to work.
- In May 2021, the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) launched the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app, a new application meant for “improving citizen oversight and increasing transparency” in National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) works.
- It is to be deployed by NREGA Mates, local women at the panchayat level who are selected and trained to monitor NREGA worksites.
- The main feature of the app is the real-time, photographed, geo-tagged attendance of every worker to be taken once in each half of the day.
Why has it become a cause of concern?
- Strict timing: While such an app may be useful in monitoring the attendance of workers who have fixed work timings, in most States, NREGA wages are calculated based on the amount of work done each day, and workers do not need to commit to fixed hours. This flexibility has been key to NREGA’s widespread demand. However, marking attendance on the app mandates that workers are at the worksite the entire day. This causes significant difficulty for NREGA workers.
- Disproportionately affect women workers: NREGA has historically had a higher proportion of women workers (54.7% in FY 2021-22) and has been pivotal in changing working conditions for women in rural areas. Due to the traditional burden of household chores and care work on women, the app is likely to disproportionately affect women workers. The conditions for registering NREGA attendance on the app put them in a dilemma where they may end up foregoing NREGA work.
- Network woes: A stable network is a must for real-time monitoring; unfortunately, it remains patchy in much of rural India. This could lead to workers not being able to mark their attendance, and consequently lose a day of wages.
- Impacted NREGA Mates: The role of a Mate was conceptualised as an opportunity to empower local women to manage attendance and work measurement in their panchayat. But now, to be a Mate, one needs to have a smartphone. This new condition disqualifies thousands of women who do not own smartphones from becoming Mates. Now, smartphone-owning men are likely to be given preference as Mates. Alternatively, women could become proxy Mates — officially registered, but deferring to men who work and get paid.
- Errors in pilot process: Officials and activists have confirmed these implementation errors had been evident throughout the pilot process.
- No physical records: The app claims to increase citizen oversight by bringing more transparency and ensuring proper monitoring of the schemes, besides potentially enabling processing payments faster. However, it appears to be doing exactly the opposite. With no physical attendance records signed by workers anymore, workers have no proof of their attendance and work done.
The Way Forward
- Strengthen social audits: Social audits are citizen-centric institutions, where the citizens of the panchayat have a direct role and say in how NREGA functions in their panchayat.
- Ensure Principles of Transparency: The MoRD’s habit of passing reforms with no stakeholder consultation does not fall in line with the principles of transparency and citizen-participation enshrined in NREGA.
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, earlier known as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was passed in 2005 to augment employment generation and social security in India.
- The scheme is a demand-driven wage employment scheme, which functions under the Ministry of Rural Development.
- Every adult member of a household in a rural area with a job card is eligible for a job under the scheme.
- The scheme envisages providing 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to adult member volunteers for unskilled manual work.
- There is also a provision for additional 50 days of unskilled wage employment in drought/natural calamity notified rural areas.
- As per Section 3(4) of the MGNREGA, the States may make provisions for providing additional days beyond the period guaranteed under the Act from their own funds.
- At least one-third of beneficiaries have to be women.
- Wages must be paid according to the statutory minimum wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
Source: The Hindu