(Mains GS 2 : Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.)
- The Union government has made capturing of attendance through its app, National Mobile Monitoring System, compulsory at worksites where 20 or more workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are employed.
National Mobile Monitoring Software app:
- The Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) launched the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app in May 2021, a new application meant for “improving citizen oversight and increasing transparency” in National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) works.
- The National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app 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.
Difficulty for NREGA workers:
- The Ministry’s directive claims that the app, which requires two time-stamped and geotagged photographs of the workers in a day, encourages transparency and increases citizen oversight.
- 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 which causes significant difficulty for NREGA workers.
Dilemma for women:
- 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.
- There are challenges of implementation with the NMMS as well because 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.
- Further, a recent NewsClick report has also highlighted the problems faced by differently-abled NREGA workers from Tamil Nadu in marking their attendance on the app.
Setback for “work mates”:
- The biggest setback after the move has been for women employees, especially the supervisors or “work 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, so,this new condition disqualifies thousands of women who do not own smartphones from becoming Mates.
- Many selected Mates also reported that they had not been given proper training in using the app which could lead to errors in recording workers’ attendance, that ultimately results in delayed or non-payments.
- The app had implementation errors but there is no information available publicly about the errors found and measures taken to address them.
- Despite the persistent errors, on May 13, 2022, the MoRD released a circular announcing that NMMS would now be mandatory for all NREGA worksites employing more than 20 workers, with no option for manual attendance other than in exceptional circumstances.
- Within a week of the mandate, many States submitted complaints and reports of the same errors that were seen during the pilot stage. The MoRD is yet to offer any solutions, reassurances, or even a response.
Physical records not existed:
- Beyond the problems in implementation, the intended purpose of such an application, and its effectiveness remain unclear.
- 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 as with no physical attendance records signed by workers anymore, workers have no proof of their attendance and work done.
- Since there are no physical records the workers can use as evidence, they have no way of proving their attendance, and will consequently lose out on pay.
- This is a clear erosion of the transparency and citizen oversight the app claims to improve.
Corruption on rise:
- Corruption has been a rising problem in NREGA, with funds being siphoned off by faking attendance records.
- While ostensibly the NMMS’s focus on real-time, geo-tagged attendance could be one way of addressing this corruption, the MoRD has not provided much clarity on either the magnitude of this corruption or the manner in which the NMMS addresses it.
- There are no parameters established to assess the app’s performance, either on transparency, or on quicker processed payments.
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.
- Audits have worked well in the past, allowing the local rights holders to be invested in decisions, and hold the administration accountable themselves.
- But instead of strengthening citizen-centric institutions such as social audit units and gram sabhas, the MoRD seems keener on introducing technological reforms that can be complex to understand and fundamentally inaccessible for workers.
- The NMMS has very clear problems that will make it increasingly difficult for workers to continue working under NREGA, eroding the right to work that underwrites the NREGA Act.
- Thus, instead of focusing on this app or introducing other complex technological reforms, social audits must be strengthened.