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NREGA: Karnataka for app-based attendance

Karnataka will roll out an app-based attendance system to block wage theft in the rural employment guarantee scheme, but the government has asked the Center to change worker sign-in hours to make things more accountable.

At present, attendance under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is recorded on a physical register, which can be manipulated, leading to the pocketing of millions of rupees.

Starting from fiscal year 2022-23, Karnataka will use National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) in the form of a smartphone application that will record work attendance and upload geotagged photos to ensure that genuine workers are paid.

Under NREGA, unskilled laborers receive Rs 289 per day.

Read also – The government will strengthen the MGNREGA program to plug the “huge leaks”

Rolling out the app-based attendance system will require companions — there’s one for every 50 to 60 workers — to have a smartphone with 4G connectivity. Authorities say it can be done. But Karnataka reported a bigger problem.

DH has reliably learned that the state government has requested the Ministry of Rural Development to change attendance times, which the Center has set at 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The government has argued that much of the NREGA’s work takes place in North and North East Karnataka between April and June. In this region, summer temperatures soar to 45 degrees Celsius, so most workers prefer to come early in the morning and leave at noon.

In addition, nearly 50% of NREGA workers in Karnataka are women. The current requirement to be present twice a day for an extended period is likely to affect women, especially female-headed households.

Thus, Karnataka asked the Center to set attendance times from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Looting of NREGA money is commonplace given its scale. In 2021-22, Karnataka achieved 16 crore man-days against the target of 13 crore at a cost of Rs 8,000 crore.

“The attendance is marked even when no one comes and the money is pocketed. Also, presence is marked when no work is being done,” said a senior official from the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR).

Social audits regularly flag such misappropriation and the government has recovered at least Rs 14 crore in recent years.

Contacted, the RDPR’s additional chief secretary, LK Atheeq, said: “We have deployed a number of measures to control the theft. A strong social audit unit carries out 100% verification of all work, there are ombudspersons in all districts and quality monitors are also deployed.

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