Advent of ‘app-solute’ Chaos in NREGA : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Key Phrases: National Mobile Monitoring Software, Ministry of Rural Development, Citizen Oversight, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Panchayat level, Geo-tagged attendance, Internet connectivity, Technical support, Social audits, Citizen-centric institutions.

National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) App:

  • 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.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA)

  • MGNREGA is one of the largest work guarantee programmes in the world.
  • The primary objective of the scheme is to guarantee 100 days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work.

Salient features of the scheme:

  • Right to Work is a statutory right.
  • Wages must be paid according to the statutory minimum wages specified by States.
  • Demand-Driven and legally-backed guarantee for any rural adult to get work within 15 days, if failed then ‘unemployment allowance’ should be given.
  • Act promotes decentralisation with significant role to PRI in planning and implementation.
  • Social Audit of MGNREGA works is mandatory, which lends to accountability and transparency.
  • The Gram Sabha is the principal forum for wage seekers to raise their voices and make demands.
  • It is the Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayat which approves the shelf of works under MGNREGA and fix their priority.


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Additional Facts about MGNREGA

  • MGNREGA Scheme officially launched on 2nd February 2006 and came into force in 200 backward districts.
  • Beneficiary must be a Citizen of India.
  • Job seeker has completed 18 years of age at the time of application.
  • The applicant must be part of a local household (i.e. application must be made with local Gram Panchayat).
  • Applicants must volunteer for unskilled labour.
  • At least one-third of beneficiaries should be women.
  • Focus is on creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals.
  • The scheme is funded by the Central Government which bears the full cost of unskilled labour and 75% of the cost of material for works undertaken under this law.

Benefits of NMMS App:

  • This app is aimed at bringing more transparency and ensure proper monitoring of the schemes.
  • The app helps in increasing citizen oversight of the programme.
  • NMMS’s focus on real-time, geo-tagged attendance in NREGA work which helps in addressing the complaints related to corruption/manipulation.
  • Faster processing of payments related to NREGA is possible with the help of app.

Problems with NMMS App:

  • Patchy Internet connectivity in rural areas:
    • 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.
    • Workers in Kerala and Jharkhand are already facing problems in uploading their attendance on the app due to network problems.
  • Little or no technical support:
    • People at the village level and even at the block level struggle to understand everything the app has to offer. So the workers have to suffer.
  • Speed of the application and the strength of the server:
    • The upload of documents is slowed down due to the speed of the application and the strength of the server and the workers get anxious as the attendance directly affects their pay.
  • No physical records:
    • 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 for two full weeks of work. This is a clear erosion of the transparency and citizen oversight the app claims to improve.
  • Conditions affecting workers:
    • 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.
    • Marking attendance on the app mandates that workers are at the worksite the entire day. This causes significant difficulty for NREGA 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.
  • Errors in pilot process:
    • The app had been launched on a pilot basis last year, with States using it voluntarily. Officials and activists confirmed these implementation errors had been evident throughout the pilot process.
  • There are no parameters established to assess the app’s performance, either on transparency, or on quicker processed payments.
  • The app specifies that it is mandatory for workers to upload two timestamps photos within a predetermined time window designed by the app. Section 3 of the Act States that workers are entitled to their wages on the basis of work completed by them that is on a piece rate basis.

Issues within MGNREGA:

  • Paucity of funds disrupts demand-supply cycle of employment. Lack of funds results in suppression of demand for work and also constrains post covid rural economic recovery.
  • Mandatory provision of disbursement of wages within 15 days is an open failure in almost every State. In addition, no statutory guarantee compensation given for any delay in payment.
  • Inefficiencies and unholy nexus of PRI with officials create hurdle in proper implementation of scheme e.g., Duplication of Job Cards.
  • Phenomenon of low quality and high Inefficiency in work leading to poor asset creation in rural economy.
  • Corrupt practices of ill-distribution of pay to workers, creation of fake bills, delay in payments, scamming of funds had entered NREGA long back which led to the epic failure and criticism of the scheme by the government.
  • Insufficient support: With the unemployment rate reaching a 45-year high at 6%, giving merely 100 days of employment is not sufficient.
  • Ineffective Role of PRI: With very little autonomy, gram panchayats are not able to implement this act in an effective and efficient manner.

Measures needed to tackle these issues:

  • Timely disbursal of Funds and mandatory compensation in case of any delay.
  • Regular DATA collection and evidence-based policy decisions to address the existing inefficiencies like duplication of card, unpaid work.
  • Use of ICT tools like GIS, Satellite imagery, Geo-tagging etc., for new asset creation.
  • Combine minimum wage with CPI-rural for better inflation targeting as recommended by many states.
  • The government should expand the scheme and focus on value addition and multiply community asset works.
  • There is a need for better coordination between various government departments and the mechanism to allot and measure the work.
  • Some discrepancies in the payouts need to be addressed, too. Women in the sector, on an average, earn 22.24% less than their male counterparts.

Way forward:

  • The NMMS app needs to be modified and implemented, in consultation with all the stakeholders so as to meet the actual functioning of NREGA and also strengthens the principles of transparency and citizen-participation, enshrined in NREGA.
  • A process to monitor and evaluate programmes and address systemic and on the ground challenges is required.
  • Social audits must be strengthened. They 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.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. The recently launched National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app by the Government meant for “improving citizen oversight and increasing transparency” in National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) works has failed to meet its objectives. Elaborate.