New Delhi: To eliminate misuse and leakages from its flagship rural employment programme, India could introduce biometric-aided identity checks that can be verified remotely.
The government’s initiative comes at a time when the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been criticized for leakages. It is the government’s largest social sector spending programme with allocation for this fiscal pegged at Rs40,100 crore.
The proposal, which has already been submitted to the government for approval, aims at rolling out a GPS (global positioning system)-enabled plan of biometric attendance for the job-guarantee scheme workers within one year once accepted, said a ministry official who is aware of the matter. He declined to be identified.
A panel with representatives from the ministry of rural development, department of financial services and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has prepared the proposal. It is largely aimed at addressing the problem of ghost workers and misappropriation of job cards.
“We want to put the fundamental framework in place in one year. With biometric attendance, I foresee a paradigm shift in concerns such as ghost workers, complaints against sarpanchs, etc.,” said another ministry official, who also requested anonymity.
In a reply to a question in Parliament on 9 March, the government conceded that it had received 27 complaints relating to diversion and leakage of funds under the job scheme.
The Comptroller and Auditor General in a 2008 audit report said the ministry of rural development’s figures on employment provided “cannot be said to be very reliable or verifiable” because record maintenance was poor.
The proposal under consideration would involve collecting data of all beneficiaries, putting in place a system for taking biometric attendance on the worksite everyday through hand-held devices and transmitting this data through cellphones for authentication, which would be GPS-enabled. Further, muster rolls would automatically be generated electronically.
This entire process is likely to be put in place through partnership with private firms. For consistency, the entire work for a state would be entrusted to one entity, which would be expected to provide an end-to-end solution.
The system would also enable biometric work measurement and would later be extended to other programme operations such as capturing all the processes from registration, demand of work, issue of dated receipt, allocation of work and wage payments.
Experts believe the system of biometric attendance would address at least one element of the scheme’s implementation, and when extended to the entire system, would definitely have a positive impact.
“However, we have to understand that the leakages work in many different ways and all the elements of the system need to be addressed for this to work fully,” said Yamini Aiyar, a senior research fellow and director of the Accountability Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research.
“Given all the social audits, the problem at work sites now is less in terms of fake job cards and more to do with technical issues such as work measurement, procurement of material components, etc.,” Aiyer added. “All these questions and concerns have to be addressed holistically in terms of the entire delivery process. If this system does that ultimately, then it is definitely a positive move.”
The job programme has so far provided employment to 1.6 million households, generating 20.1 million person-days of work since it was launched in 2006.