Workers employed under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS, have been deprived of their wages due to the introduction of Aadhaar-based Payment System and use of real-time attendance, scholar and economist Jean Drèze said on Tuesday, reported PTI.

From February 20, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government had made it mandatory that all payments to the MGNREGS workers will be done through Aadhaar-based Payment System, reported The New Indian Express.

The workers also have to submit their attendance through the National Mobile Monitoring Software App. For this, they have to upload two geo-tagged photos every day on this app failing which means they will not be paid for the day’s work, according to The Wire.

However, only 43% of the workers have seeded their Aadhaar with the attendance app and are eligible for the payment system. This has led to protests from workers, activists and politicians, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi.

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Drèze made the statement at an event in the national capital where members of civil society urged Opposition leaders to support an increase in budgetary allocation for the social security scheme.

This year’s budget allocation for the scheme has declined despite an increase in revised budget allocation for MGNREGS in the last financial year of 2022-’23. In the last Budget session, Centre had allocated Rs 73,000 crore to the scheme and later revised it to Rs 89,400 crore.

Centre’s budget allocation to MGNREGS was reduced to Rs 60,000 crore this year, the lowest in the last four Union Budgets of the government.

The social security scheme was introduced in 2005 by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and is aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of households in rural areas. The demand-driven scheme guarantees 100 days of unskilled work annually for every rural household that wants it, covering all districts in the country.

On Tuesday, Drèze also said that it was illegal and criminal not to pay wages to workers for the work they have done under MGNREGS. He also accused the said that the BJP of unleasheaing an unprecedented attack on the scheme by reducing the funding.

“Funds run out and projects come to a halt,” the economist said. “The wages get delayed and are accumulated for months. Aadhar-based Payment is so complicated system that even many bankers fail to understand its functionality and the majority of workers cannot be paid through this system.”

The event was attended by several Opposition MPs, including Sanjay Singh from the Aam Aadmi Party, Digvijaya Singh, Uttam Kumar Reddy and Kumar Ketkar from the Congress, S Senthilkumar from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Jawhar Sircar from the Trinamool Congress Party, reported PTI.

Besides Drèze, speakers from various labour groups expressed their concerns regarding the social security scheme.

The group urged the legislators to demand an explanation from Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh on his remarks to the media suggesting that the state government should also contribute to the wage liability under the programme that contradicts the provisions of the scheme.

“The current changes in MGNREGS impact 15 crore workers across the country which is a huge number,” Nikhil Dey from the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan said. “We want a political response from opposition parties to support people on the ground to give them their rights under the law.”