Rural jobs hit, government wary

Eye on polls, Centre seeks to soften note ban impact.

New Delhi: With Assembly elections in five crucial states early next year, the Centre is scurrying to mitigate the debilitating effect demonetisation has had on rural workers dependent on the national job guarantee scheme. The government is gearing up to provide Aadhaar-enabled payment systems to MGNREGA workers.

Most rural workers are not only illiterate, but also lack access to digital economy. Some even do not have basic mobile phones, leave alone smartphones. Thus Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surgical strike on black money has dealt a body blow to these workers.

Data shows that there has been a slump of 23 per cent in employment generation through the MGNREGA post-demonetisation as compared to the previous month. Those who could not manage to get jobs under this scheme jumped to 23.40 lakh, almost twice the number in October.

A worried Union government is now chalking out a plan to ensure Aadhaar-enabled benefits transfer to such workers.

“Moving money into their bank accounts is not the problem. The issue is how these workers withdraw money in this time of cash crunch. Thus we are looking at various options to facilitate this,” a top official of the rural development ministry told this newspaper.

“Traditionally there has always been a slump in MGNREGA in October-November, it is true that this year it has been more,” the official, who did not wish to be named, said.

Following the demonetisation, a high-level meeting was called by the rural development ministry which was attended by Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant. Chief Secretaries of all states and most district magistrates were also consulted through video-conferencing.

The plan is to provide point of sale machines at all PDS shops from where food items can be bought through bio-metric scanning and handing out micro-ATMs to banking correspondents called Bank Sakhis to dispense door to door cash.

There are around 10.88 crore active MGNREGA workers out of whom only 3.7 crore have their bank accounts linked with Aadhaar. “We have requested that the process to verify and link the rest nearly 7.5 crore accounts of MGNREGA workers should move faster,” the official said.

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