The Union Rural Development Ministry in August created an off-record WhatsApp chat group where it instructed states not to generate more work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, reported the Business Standard. The report also added that it used the platform to inform states that funds would not be sanctioned soon and thus asked them to spend "judiciously".

The instructions are a violation of the provisions of the MNREG Act, according to the government cannot decrease work opportunities to fit its budgetary plans. The chat group, titled ENCORE [Enabling Communication on Rural Employment], includes senior ministry officials and state-level MNREGA officials as its members. The ministry, however, told the Business Standard, that the chat group was “a convenience for follow-up and reminders as also for showcasing good work by states through uploading of pictures."

However, according to Business Standard, the chats revealed otherwise. The report shows that the platform was used as an off-record avenue so that the Centre could pass on instructions that would have been otherwise unlawful.

On August 14, the rural development ministry’s joint secretary in-charge of MNREGA told the states, "Our demands cannot be unlimited for the simple reason that the resources are limited – both of the Centre and the states. The Ministry had emphatically and clearly communicated during the previous fund release that we have to strategically plan out the spending till September, 2016." Following such instructions, the amount of work generated in August and September was abysmally low. But the states continued to plead for immediate release of funds to pay hundreds of crores of arrears for the work that had been completed.

Despite the drought across a number of states this year, the MNREGA employment programme continues to be a lifeline for the hinterlands. Madina Begum from Ratnauli village in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district explained to why the scheme is important for them. She said that the landholdings are so skewed that not more than 10 or 20 families own land in their panchayat of 1,500 families. The rest are sharecroppers whose annual income from farming is as low as Rs 5,000. “If we get work for 100 days, it will mean we earn Rs 17,700,” she added. Begum, however, said that it has never been easy to get work. “We did not get any work all of 2014. We got 20 days in 2015. And we are yet to get paid for that. Even when we ask for work, we do not get any.”

The MNREGA or National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 is a law that aims to provide at least 100 days of paid work per financial year to households from which members volunteer to do unskilled manual labour. The involvement of middle-men and contractors in such schemes is banned.