For the past two months,around 2,000 workers enrolled under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Orissa have been collecting their wages from their local post offices using smart cards.
What began as a pilot project to ensure better transparency and timely disbursal of wages under NREGS is fast transforming the way money changes hands at the grassroots level in addition to helping the government keep an audit trail and plug leakages.
Launched on December 1 last year at Baunspal in Orissas Dhenkanal district,the project piloted by the Department of Posts,with the active involvement of Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Jyotiraditya Scindia,will very soon cover around 25 villages and service 6,000 workers under NREGS.
Using a combination of equipment like a mobile handset,a Near Frequency Communication Reader,a thermal printer and a smart card,the way the system works is simple. First,a worker enrolled under NREGS,and having a valid job-card,has to approach the branch-office level post office in his area to get a savings account opened. Once done,the worker will get a smart card having all his job card details.
Once his work under NREGS is complete,the worker goes to the post office and presents his smart-card which,when read by a reading device,immediately displays the card-holders details. Then,using a mobile handset,the post office runs a check with the Central Payment System on a NIC server to ascertain the existing balance amount in the workers account and makes the payment. Once the transaction is complete,a printed receipt having the transaction details is made available to the worker, explains Salim Haque,Deputy Director General (Rural Business) at the Department of Posts.
On their part,the state governments have to ensure that the NREGS Mandal Computer Centre uploads all the NREGS transactions,including payorder of all the muster rolls to its data servers. For the ongoing pilot project in Orissa,BSNL is providing the connectivity via mobile phones while NIC is maintaining the servers.
In addition to making online transactions like cash withdrawal and balance queries possible,this system also provides for printed receipts and audio announcements, said an official involved with the project. By introducing the technology bit,the system,officials said,reduces chances for siphoning of funds through fake employment records.
With the Rural Development ministry already having instructed states to make payments under NREGS through banks or post offices,the number of accounts opened under NREGS with post offices has already crossed the two crore mark. As on December 31,2008,post offices across the country had disbursed Rs 3,422 crore under NREGS.