Technocratic initiatives in governance of MGNREGA & ICDS

    0
    521

    In Context 

    Recently ,The issues related to Technocratic initiatives in governance of MGNREGA & ICDS  have been highlighted in some studies .

    • A recent article by Tapasya of The Reporters’ Collective highlights some alarming technocratic proposals for ICDS

    About Initiatives 

    • Poshan Tracker
      • In 2021, the Union government launched the Poshan Tracker, a centralised platform, to monitor all nutrition initiatives, including Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). 
      • Rolled out by : the Ministry of Women and Child Development through National e-Governance Division (NeGD).
        • Technology under Poshan Tracker is being leveraged for dynamic identification of stunting, wasting, under-weight prevalence among children and last mile tracking of nutrition service delivery.
      • Significance 
        • The Poshan Tracker is a job-aid to the Anganwadi worker for efficient delivery of services along with reflection of their efforts. It is a critical and beneficiary-centric service delivery 
        • Poshan Tracker is an important governance tool. 
      • Issues 
        • As per Union government circulars, the updating of Aadhaar of ICDS rights-holders, including children, on the Poshan Tracker is mandatory, and subsequent Central funds for supplementary nutrition to States is being made contingent on this. 
          • Nearly three-fourths of children between the ages of 0 to 5 years do not have Aadhaar cards, and Supreme Court orders specify that children cannot be denied their rights for lack of Aadhaar. 
            • The government has responded saying that only the Aadhaar of mothers need to be authenticated at Anganwadis. 
          • However, it does not provide any data or evidence to show how many “fake” or “ghost” children there are. 
          • Study reported that biometrics of 42% of the users don’t work on the first attempt. 
          • As per the recent National Family Health Survey, 36% of children under the age of five are stunted and nearly one-third of children in this age group are underweight.
            • These are pre-pandemic numbers and this would have worsened since the pandemic. 
          • In such light, creating new hurdles for children — migrants or otherwise — and young mothers to access food in the name of digitisation appears cruel. 
          • It is also unclear what impact such a move will have on the psyche of a child whose mother’s Aadhaar authentication fails. 

     

    • National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS)
      • It  was launched by the Minister of Rural Development  in 2021. 
        • It permits taking real time attendance of workers at Mahatma Gandhi NREGA worksites along with geo-tagged photographs.
          • As per the order, the app will record “two time-stamped and geo-tagged photographs of the workers in a day” which “increases citizen oversight of the programme besides potentially enabling processing of payments faster.” 
          • The app helps in increasing citizen oversight of the programme.
        • It is aimed at bringing more transparency and ensuring proper monitoring of the schemes. 
      • It is applicable for the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA workers for all the States/ Union Territories.
      • Issues 
        • Recently some studies articulated  the perils of  NMMS 
          • MGNREGA workers could complete their share of work and leave. 
            • This gave them time for household work or for other work that gave them supplementary income
          • The app makes this hard as they have to now stay back at the worksite even after completing their work only to get photographed and geo-tagged. 
          • Even from a hard economic standpoint, this move deters workers’ contribution to the GDP. 
          • The attendance at worksites is taken by Mates who are usually local women in charge of worksite supervision.
          • Now, Mates have to carry smartphones which many don’t own. 
            • Many Mates are forced to take loans to buy smartphones to use the app. 

    Other Concerns 

    • Both these technocratic initiatives point to a digital avatar of panopticon with no evident positives for the rights-holders. 
      • The sense of being constantly watched induces fear among people.
      •  This normalizes and exacerbates the power asymmetry between the rights-holders and the government as the rights-holders begin to internalize and accept this form of coercion. 
    • Moreover, the rights-holders will be made to take the blame for technical reasons blocking their participation. 
    • This further alienates and erodes the political capacities of rights-holders who usually get addressed in patronising terms such as “beneficiaries.”
    •  In the process, violations of dignity get buried in the calculus of technocracy and opacity of government actions.
    • The right to live with dignity is a constitutional imperative. However, it rarely manifests in discussions surrounding digital initiatives in governance.
      • Centralised data dashboards have become the go-to mode for assessing policies, relegating principles such as human dignity and hardships in accessing rights to its blind spots. 
        • Often when technological glitches prevent one from accessing rights, there is a tendency to make the rights-holder feel responsible for it.  
    • NMMS failures plus other impediments such as unstable network connectivity are likely to discourage women from MGNREGA work. 

    Conclusion & Way Forward 

    • the Indian state has put so much weight behind ‘seeing’ its people, the majority are unable to see and scrutinise government actions.
      • Democratic dictum suggests that people should be able to ‘see’ the state clearly, not the other way around. It is the dignity and trust of people at stake otherwise.
    • The cases of corruption in MGNREGA need to be addressed. But for that, social audits need strengthening instead of making already overburdened women struggle more.
      • Reasons for poor utilisation of funds should be analysed and steps must be taken to improve them. In addition, actions should be initiated against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds.
      • The participation of women and backwards classes must be increased by raising awareness and making it more inclusive.

    ICDS 

    • It was launched on 2nd October, 1975 (5th Five year Plan) in pursuance of the National Policy for Children in 33 experimental blocks.
      • Now the goal is to universalize ICDS throughout the country.
    • The primary responsibility for the implementation of the programme is with the Department of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resources Development at the Centre and the nodal departments at the state which may be Social Welfare, Rural Development, Tribal Welfare, Health and Family Welfare or Women and Child Development.
    • Beneficiaries:
      • It is one of the world’s largest early childhood care and development programmes
        • An important component of ICDS is supplementary nutrition for children in the 0 to 6 years age group, pregnant women and lactating mothers. 
    • This became a legal entitlement when it became part of the National Food Security Act in 2013. 

    MGNREGA 

    • It is a poverty alleviation programme of the Government of India, which provides the legal Right to Work in exchange for money to the citizens of the country.
    • Aim:
      • It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
    • It is shared between the Centre and the States.
    • The Central Government bears 100 per cent of the cost of unskilled labour, 75 percent of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75 percent of the cost of materials and 6 percent of the administrative costs.
    • At least one-third of beneficiaries have to be women. Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.

     

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Digital initiatives in governance of MGNREGA & Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) have not proved to be an effective instrument.Critically examine the statement and give your views to improve the situation.