ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From Aadhaar Mandate to Mass Job Card Deletions

Unravelling the MGNREGA Story

In financial year 2022–23, more than 5 crore workers were deleted from the Mahatma Gandhi Na­tional Rural Employment Guarantee Act database—a 247% increase compared to the previous FY. Using a worker-centric framework, this rise is investigated in context of the complexity of recent Aadhaar-based interventions and the manner of their rollout. Worker deletion and resolution practices on the ground are also analysed. These techno-solutionist policies are not consistent with democratic norms and increase workers’ distress.

The authors would like to thank B D S Kishore from LibTech India for his help with the fi eldwork for this article.

Suresh Ram,1 an Adivasi from Koraput district, Odisha, owns a small piece of land, which he cultivates, but the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work is his main source of income. The MGNREGA, which gives a guaranteed 100 days of work to every rural household on demand and enshrines the right to work, provides livelihood to crores of workers like Suresh. Currently, there are more than 26 crore registered MGNREGA workers in the country. In March 2023, when Suresh demanded MGNREGA work, he was informed by block officials that his name was missing from the muster rolls (work allocation and attendance sheets). When we investigated Suresh’s case, we found that his job card had in fact been deleted, and the reason given on the official MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS) portal was “unwilling to work.” Suresh was surprised to learn this since he actively works in the MGNREGA and has never expressed such a sentiment. “No one ever asked me,” said Suresh.

Suresh’s case is not unique; he is one of the 5.2 crore workers who were deleted from the MGNREGA database in financial year (FY) 2022–23.2 Deletion and issuance of new job cards are routine practices, with job cards of deceased or migrated workers getting deleted, while new workers seeking employment undergo the process of having their names added or get a new job card made. However, FY 2022–23 saw an exponential increase in worker deletions as per the Ministry of Rural Development’s (MoRD) own data. In response to a Lok Sabha question, the MoRD reported,3 there was a 247% increase in deletions in FY 2022–23. Figure 1 illustrates the exceptionally high deletion rate in FY 2022–23—out of 27 crore workers, a whopping 19% (more than 5 crore workers) were deleted from the MGNREGA database. This is a very sharp jump from previous FYs’ deletion rates.

As part of our work with LibTech India, we have spent nearly a year tracking job card deletions in the MGNREGA. We spoke with workers, local officials, panchayat functionaries, and other civil society organisations and activists to understand the reality and reasoning behind the massive deletions, and document the process for reinstating a wrongfully deleted job card. Additionally, we examined official MoRD documents and filed RTIs, and analysed the programme data that is made available by the MoRD on the MIS of MGNREGA. We interviewed over 600 workers between October 2022 and June 2023, and interviewed officials bet­ween December 2022 and May 2023. Our investigation occurred across various states, including Andhra Pradesh (AP), Gujarat, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Telangana.

To understand Suresh’s case, and the cases of lakhs of workers like him, we must take a step back and examine another recent intervention in MGNREGA: the mandating of the Aadhaar-based Payment System (ABPS). In this article, we argue that the complexity of Aadhaar-based interventions and the manner of their rollout has a correlation with the spate of deletions. We begin by unpacking the Aadhaar interventions and assessing their rationale and complexity. We further discuss what official MGNREGA documents say about deletions, and briefly examine deletion practices and resolution procedures on the ground. Finally, we comment on the Aadhaar mandate as a symptom of the union government’s techno-solutionist tendencies.

Aadhaar Interventions

On 30 January 2023, the MoRD released a letter4 mandating the use of the ABPS for processing all wage payments in MGNREGA, with effect from 1 February 2023. On that day, a mere 43% of MGNREGA workers were eligible for ABPS payments. Even though the official mandate came only in January 2023, there was immense pressure on states to complete Aadhaar seeding since the beginning of the FY, leading to the consequences that are discussed subsequently. As the MoRD relentlessly pushed state governments to reach 100% Aadhaar seeding and authentication to ensure that workers became eligible for ABPS, the spike in deletions began. Under pressure to reach targets and lacking any training or understanding on the Aadhaar process, local officials found an easier way—by deleting ABPS-ineligible workers from the MGNREGA roster. To understand why deleting workers—without following due process—was easier for local officials, we must first understand what makes these Aadhaar-based interventions so tricky. There are three technical processes here.


(i) Aadhaar seeding: This refers to workers submitting their Aadhaar details to be linked to their job cards. Previously, workers had the option of linking their Aadhaar details in their job cards but it was not mandatory. Now, workers need an Aadhaar card to avail of MGNREGA. As on 15 August, more than 6 crore workers across the country have not completed Aadhaar seeding. These workers can no longer work under the MGNREGA—which fundamentally undermines their constitutional right to work.


(ii) Aadhaar authentication: This involves the automatic verification of workers’ details as registered in their job cards against their details in the Aadhaar database, including name, gender, and demographic details. If any discrepancies are found, the authentication fails. A worker from Panchmahal district, Gujarat, failed the authentication since her name on job card was “Jasodaben,” but in the Aadhaar database her name was “Jashodaben.” Naming conventions in rural areas, especially in tribal areas, can often be difficult to capture uniformly across IDs, making cases of mismatched name or even gender not uncommon. This is especially true since enrolment for many IDs was done on a rapid campaign mode, for instance, the Aadhaar enrolment camps, where rural citizens were registered without ensuring correct and uniform details (Dhorajiwala and Wagner 2019).

Aadhaar authentication is challenging for officials as well. They have not received guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOPs) for authentication or for resolution of mismatched cases. After filing an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with MoRD to inquire about the provisions or guidelines for worker deletions, we were provided with only a partial excerpt from the MGNREGA Annual Master Circular (AMC), containing broad principles for deletions but lacking the detailed guidelines, we sought. We found that across states, block data entry operators were rarely able to even locate lists of workers without Aadhaar seeding or authentication, let alone have knowledge of resolution procedures, especially during the beginning of the Aadhaar enforcement. This confusion is not restricted to block officers; we have encountered significant misinformation about Aadhaar processes even with state-level officers. Further, resolution is tricky and largely out of the hands of block operators. Many of the Aadhaar details can only be corrected at the district or higher level, making the process centralised and even more inaccessible for workers. Certain cases may require workers to visit Aadhaar centres, exacerbating the issue due to the limited presence of such centres in rural and tribal areas.

Consider the case of Vanthala Ramesh from Alluri Sitharama Raju (ASR) district, AP. After spending several hours searching the MIS with the block’s data entry operator, we discovered that Ramesh was marked as female. The operator gave up on resolving the issue when we realised that the gender mismatch could only be corrected in the district login. Having to reach the district to correct such an error, or reaching the Aadhaar centre with the required documents in case of Aadhaar correction, can often be very difficult. This can even lead workers, often the most vulnerable, to give up on MGNREGA work entirely.


(iii) ABPS: While, previously, MGNREGA wage payments could be account-based (akin to a NEFT transfer) or Aadhaar-based, now the ABPS is mandatory. Aadhaar-based payments use only the Aadhaar number as the financial address for where the payment goes. For ABPS, three linkages must be complete: first, a worker’s Aadhaar number must be seeded to her job card. Second, her Aadhaar must be seeded to her bank account via eKYC. Third, the worker’s Aadhaar must be linked to her bank’s Institutional Identification Number (IIN) in a “mapper” (or database) created by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which acts as the union government’s payments clearing house. In the case of multiple accounts for the same person, the ABPS automatically sends money to the latest NPCI-mapped account. Only if all of these links are completed, will a worker’s wage payment be processed. With mandatory ABPS, even if a worker has worked under the MGNREGA, and if she is not eligible for ABPS, she cannot receive her wages.

Narsamma, a Dalit MGNREGA worker from Jogulamba Gadwal district, Telangana, did not receive wages for work done, while others who had worked alongside her received their wages. Despite multiple visits at the block and the bank, she was unable to understand or resolve her problem. The government machinery itself is not clear on what to do, and no adequate training has been provided to front-line officials or functionaries on the new systems. Block officials are having to find ways to bypass new processes to ensure things are done. For instance, since the wage payment process can only be initiated for all workers from the same worksite together, data entry operators in AP, Bihar, and Jharkhand reported being asked to delete the ABPS ineligible workers from work records so that the wage payment process can be initiated for other workers. This is also what happened in Narsamma’s case. Her work records will now mark her as “absent,” even though she has worked for six full days—not only does she remain unpaid, these six days are subtracted from her 100 days’ quota as well.

The MoRD has pushed the deadline for mandatory ABPS multiple times now since states have been unable to reach the 100% ABPS eligibility target set in February 2023. After much public pressure, currently, the MoRD has permitted the use of both payment types, which means workers like Narsamma can get paid. The current ABPS deadline was 31 August, but even as of 15 August, only 57% of MGNREGA workers have been eligible for ABPS.

Due Process

According to the latest MGNREGA AMC,5 which details the guidelines and procedures to be followed in programme implementation, “No JC is to be cancelled in a routine manner and certainly not on the ground of non-demand/non-reporting for work” (AMC Section 3.4). It further states, “All additions/deletions/cancellations must be made public, presented to the Gram Sabha/Ward Sabha, reported to the Programme Officer and updated in the MIS.” Our investigation showed that on the ground, both of these provisions are being violated. Workers like Suresh, who are actively demanding and doing MGNREGA work, are facing deletion on grounds of being “unwilling to work,” which the AMC explicitly disallows. Further, most workers are not even aware of their deletions, and the procedure of publicising the deletions is clearly not being followed. If workers are not aware that they have been removed from the MGNREGA database, the question of raising a complaint and hoping for a resolution does not arise. The MIS lists 13 reasons for deletion which include “unwilling to work,” “fake applicant,” “person expired,” and “not existing in panchayat.” The source of the reasons is unclear since the MGNREGA does not mention deletions at all, and the AMC also makes no mention of possible reasons for deleting a worker or a job card.

Our field investigation also highlights the problems in the process for reinstating a wrongfully deleted job card. First, neither the MGNREGA nor the AMC even mentions wrongful deletions, and consequently there is no SOP for reinstating such a case. This leads to a lot of confusion for local officers, and significant discrepancy at the ground level regarding the reinstatement process. We follow two cases to illustrate the complicated reinstatement procedure—Singanna from AP and Kavia from Gujarat. Both of them were deleted with the reason “person shifted to new family,” which we verified did not hold true in reality. We initiated and tracked their reinstatement to understand the resolution process. In the block, we found the following scenarios:

(i) Singanna’s Aadhaar was seeded with his job card, but authentication had failed.

(ii) Kavia’s Aadhaar was seeded with someone else’s job card.

In the first case, the block official had to certify that Singanna was a genuine worker and forward his name to the district officials. They compiled all such cases and referred them to the state since these cases could only be resolved via the state’s singular login, located at the state capital. Singanna’s Aadhaar could only be “defreezed” (allowing modi­fications in the details) at the state level by the state officer who had to manually find Singanna’s job card by navigating through the database of each of the 42 villages in the panchayat.

Now, since the Aadhaar had been “defrozen,” his details could be corrected and he could be re-added to his family’s job card as a new worker at the block level. The second case was further complicated as it involved finding out to which worker Kavia’s Aadhaar was linked and then defreezing the Aadhaar. The rest of the story was similar to the first case.

Through our fieldwork across states, we discovered that revoking deletions is a painstaking and exhausting task. For example, if we consider revoking deletions of only those workers who demanded at least one day of work in FY 2022–23 from ASR district of AP, the state login would have to handle more than 36,000 deletions individually. With each case taking approximately two minutes, one can envision the considerable time and fatigue involved in this process across the entire state and the country.

Additionally, in states where attempts are made to revoke wrongful deletions, the data sharing at the local level is patchy, and there are no standard templates provided for data collection at the local level. Revoking deletions involves admitting wrongful deletions in the first place, which no state functionary would do. Even if all the deletions are successfully revoked, the workers will still face challenges unless their Aadhaar authentication and ABPS issues are resolved. This could result in them missing out on work opportunities or facing delays in receiving payments. On 3 June 2023, the MoRD also released a statement clarifying that “Job cards cannot be deleted on the basis of reason that the worker is not eligible for ABPS,” in effect admitting the practice was certainly being followed (PIB 2023).Out of the 600 deleted workers we interviewed, we found that a whopping 380, or 63%, were wrongful deletions. Our sample was not chosen randomly and it is not representative of the country’s trends because we purposively visited blocks with high deletions. How­ever, our findings do indicate that a significant number of the 5 crore deleted workers are likely to be wrongly deleted—which is a cause for serious concern.

Why Aadhaar?

The interventions discussed earlier are clearly technically complex. In our fieldwork we have found that a significant number of data entry operators and local bank officials have very little understanding of the linkages and procedures required for ABPS, or authentication. Workers are often given incorrect information when they approach block/bank officials—for instance, being told to redo their KYC when in fact it is the NPCI mapping that has not been completed. There is also no clear responsibility on the state to ensure workers are not left out, with the burden being on workers to run pillar to post to make sure they get their rights.

These interventions are especially concerning given their non-consultative nature, along with the government’s opaque response on the justifications for the move. So far, the MoRD has claimed the Aadhaar authentication helps recognise fake or “ghost” workers, and that ABPS leads to some efficiency gains over account-based payments.6 MGNREGA certainly has been plagued with corruption throughout its existence, and contractors do use fake job cards as a way to siphon funds. However, there is no data released by the MoRD yet on the quantum of such corruption, which would justify the implementation of the Aadhaar seeding/authentication exercise. On the other hand, there is significant evidence from across states in India that the exercise is leading to deletions of real workers, who rely on MGNREGA for their livelihoods. A recent field report by the Hindu from Rayagada district, Odisha, found multiple genuine beneficiaries that had been deleted (Nair 2023). That block, with a high concentration of Adivasis, has one of the highest deletion rates in the country.

The claim of ABPS leading to efficiency gains is also shaky. RTIs filed to the MoRD between 2016 and 2023 asking for justifications or evidence of benefits from ABPS have yielded either no response, vague statements, or “assumptions” of savings. Additionally, a recent working paper published by LibTech India analysed 31 million transactions to conclude that there was no significant difference in the time taken to process payments through ABPS, when compared with the traditional account-based payments. The paper also showed no statistically significant difference in the likelihood of a payment facing rejection when compared across account and Aadhaar payments—which was another claim made by the MoRD. There is significant evidence from across states that illustrates the ABPS as a technical quagmire, which is incredibly difficult to navigate. The ABPS also leads to misdirected and diverted payments—where one’s Aadhaar either gets linked to somebody else’s bank account, or to a different, often unknown bank account of one’s own. These are both difficult to identify and very tricky to resolve.Summing up, both the interventions have no clear benefits so far and have not yet done what they claimed to do. On the other hand, there are significant genuine exclusions occurring from authentication, while ABPS is a maze not just for workers, but also for block and bank officials.

In Conclusion

Any intervention must be judged not just by its intent and in its idealised form, but in how it plays out on the ground and how it is experienced by the rights-holder, the MGNREGA worker in this case. The Aadhaar seeding/authentication and ABPS were man­dated using the “ultimatum method” (Drèze 2021), which inevitably led to a 247% increase in job card deletions in FY 2022–23, with the increase going as high as 2,700% in Telangana. While at this point it is not possible to say how many of these deletions are of real or “fake” workers, our fieldwork leaves no doubt that a significant number of genuine, vulnerable workers are getting deprived of their right to work and livelihood. Both authentication and ABPS lead to complex issues that are very difficult to resolve. The cost of actually resolving these issues often goes unrecognised. For a MGNREGA worker to forgo multiple days of work while spending money on food and travel to run from the bank to the block to the district, is a very costly affair. Workers in the past have dropped out of MGNREGA entirely due to such costs. This is the metric on which interventions must be judged.

The MoRDs push to implement Aadhaar is not just shrouded in mystery, but is carried out in a very problematic manner. Instead of focusing on strengthening bank infrastructure, network coverage, and information and training on technical processes, the government’s approach has been to rashly adopt technical interventions. A similar case is that of the problem-plagued National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) app launched to take attendance for MGNREGA workers. The app was launched after a pilot in one single district, and with zero worker consultation. NMMS, along with Aadhaar seeding/authentication, has been aimed at reducing corruption in MGNREGA. But the manner in which both technologies were adopted has meant that there is no evidence of them succeeding, even as workers are suffering. The government will bear no costs of the wrongful deletions of workers—while workers continue to be the guinea pigs. While implementing digital measures to address problems may be tempting, it is important to not reduce policymaking to techno-solutionism. Policy design for technical interventions must be consultative, properly piloted, and designed keeping the workers in mind.


1                 All names have been changed.

2                 All data in the article has been sourced from the MGNREGA MIS, which is maintained by the MoRD.

3                 Lok Sabha Starred Question 61, answered on 25 July 2023, _loksabhaquestions_annex_1712_AS61.pdf - Google Drive.

4                 Ministry of Rural Development letter, 30 January 2023,­­­d/1YS99yl7AgWJ0AN8dcUe4zZLUnJyl1awl/view?­pli=1.

5                 MGNREGA Annual Master Circular 2021, Ministry of Rural Development,

6                 This is on the basis of official MoRD documents and RTI responses collected between 2016 and 2023. The collected documents can be found here,


Dhorajiwala, S and N Wagner (2019): “A Bridge to Nowhere,” Hindu, 27 March,

Drèze, J (2021): “There Is an Urgent Need for Safeguards against Unfair Discontinuation of Social Benefits,” Indian Express, 20 April,

Nair, S (2023): “Job Card-Aadhaar Mismatch | A Missing Letter Means No Work for MGNREGS Workers in Odisha,” Hindu, 24 June,

PIB (2023): “About 88% of the Wage Payment Has Been Made Through ABPS Till May 2023,” 3 June,

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Updated On : 25th Sep, 2023
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