[Editorial] National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) App – Challenges and the Way Forward

The Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) launched the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app in May 2021, a new application aimed at “improving citizen oversight and increasing transparency” in NREGA work. However, the app has had a negative impact on all of the targeted stakeholders.

Quick revision mind map

The National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) App

  • As previously stated, it is a new application designed to “improve citizen oversight and increase transparency” in National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)
  • It will be deployed by NREGA Mates, panchayat-level local women who are chosen and trained to monitor NREGA work sites.
  • The app’s main feature is the real-time, photographed, geo-tagged attendance of each worker, which is taken once in each half of the day.

How did the app affect workers’ working conditions?

Need to spend the entire day on-site:

  • While such an app may be useful in monitoring the attendance of workers with fixed work hours, NREGA wages in most states are calculated based on the amount of work done each day, and workers are not required to commit to fixed hours.
  • This adaptability has been critical to NREGA’s widespread popularity. However, marking attendance on the app requires workers to be on-site for the entire day.
  • This creates significant difficulties for NREGA employees.

Reduce women in the NREGA workforce:

  • NREGA has traditionally had a higher proportion of female workers (54.7 per cent in FY 2021-22) and has been instrumental in improving working conditions for women in rural areas.
  • The app is likely to disproportionately affect women workers due to the traditional burden of household chores and care work on women.
  • The conditions for registering NREGA attendance on the app put them in a bind, causing them to forego NREGA work.

Challenges in the implementation of the NMMS

Lack of a stable network:

  • A stable network is required for real-time monitoring, but it is still patchy in much of rural India.
  • This could result in workers being unable to mark their attendance and thus losing a day’s pay.
  • Due to network issues, workers in Kerala and Jharkhand are already having difficulty uploading their attendance to the app.
  • Furthermore, differently-abled NREGA workers in Tamil Nadu are having difficulty recording their attendance on the app.

What impact did the app have on NREGA Mates?

To be a Mate today, you must own a smartphone:

  • NREGA Mates has also suffered as a result of the app.
  • The Mate role was envisioned as a way to empower local women to manage attendance and work measurement in their panchayat.
  • To be a Mate nowadays, however, one must own a smartphone.
  • This new requirement prevents thousands of women from becoming Mates because they do not own smartphones.
  • Women in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh have already reported being passed over for selection as Mates for this reason.
  • Men who own smartphones are now more likely to be chosen as Mates.

Fraud, errors, and payment delays/non-payment:

  • Women could also become proxy Mates, officially registered but deferring to men who work and get paid. Many chosen Mates also reported that they had not received proper app training.
  • This could result in errors in recording workers’ attendance, resulting in delayed or non-payments.

What are the errors in the app’s pilot process?

The app was made mandatory without fixing the persisting error:

  • The app was launched on a trial basis last year, with states voluntarily using it.
  • Officials and activists confirmed that these implementation flaws were visible throughout the pilot process.
  • However, no information about the errors discovered or the steps are taken to correct them is publicly available.
  • Our Right to Information requests has also received no satisfactory responses.
  • Despite the persistent errors, the MoRD issued a circular in May 2022 announcing that NMMS would now be mandatory for all NREGA worksites employing more than 20 workers, with no option for manual attendance except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Many states submitted complaints and reports of the same errors seen during the pilot stage within a week of the mandate.
  • The Ministry of Rural Development has yet to provide any solutions, reassurances, or even a response.

Other issues related to the App

The intended purpose of such an application, as well as its effectiveness, are unknown:

  • The app claims to “increase citizen oversight” by “bringing more transparency and ensuring proper monitoring of the schemes, in addition to potentially allowing faster payment processing.”
  • However, it appears to be doing the direct opposite.
  • Workers no longer have physical attendance records signed by them, so they have no proof of their attendance or work done.
  • This clearly undermines the transparency and citizen oversight that the app claims to improve.

No evaluation criteria in place

  • There are no parameters in place to evaluate the app’s performance, either in terms of transparency or faster payment processing.

Only a little clarity was provided:

  • Corruption is on the rise in NREGA, with funds being syphoned off by falsifying attendance records.
  • While the NMMS’s emphasis on real-time, geo-tagged attendance appears to be one way of addressing corruption, the MoRD has not provided much clarity on either the magnitude of the corruption or how the NMMS addresses it.

The next step

Strengthen social audits:

  • Rather than focusing on this app or other complex technological reforms, social audits must be strengthened.
  • Social audits are citizen-centric institutions in which panchayat citizens have a direct role and say in how NREGA operates in their panchayat.
  • Audits have previously worked well, allowing local rights holders to be invested in decisions and hold the administration accountable.

Consultation and discussion with NREGA workers:

  • It appears ironic that an application designed to improve citizen oversight and transparency was implemented without any consultation or discussion with NREGA employees, functionaries, or government field officials.
  • As a result, the NMMS is completely ignorant of the actual operation of NREGA on the ground.

Bottom Line

The NMMS has inherent weaknesses that will make it increasingly difficult for workers to continue working under NREGA, eroding the right to work that is the basis of the NREGA Act.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. The new National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) application has flaws that clearly jeopardise the right to work. Discuss. (15 Marks, 250 Words).
Referred Sources

TH

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