Where did the money go?

by Khabar Lahariya
Banda district, Uttar Pradesh

Mahari, her son, and her daughter had been awaiting payments from NREGA for six months.

“The Pradhan and Panchayat Mitra say, ‘the government has not yet released the money, how can we distribute your payments?'” said Mahari. Many echoed her statement.

But what we found out from the Panchayat Mitra, Dharmendra Kumar, was that delayed payments were not the only cause. “Earlier, the cheque would arrive at the bank from Lucknow, and the money would get distributed according to each person’s share of earnings. Now it is different. The money sometimes goes into the Aadhaar cards and sometimes into their SIM cards.” By SIM cards, he means their ‘Airtel Payments Bank’, a digital wallet that NREGA workers often unknowingly make their default payments account, when linking SIM cards with Aadhar.

Ever since Aadhar cards have been linked with SIM cards (digital wallets), NREGA payments, and bank accounts, one can never be sure of where the money goes. In Bambiya village, people are not even aware of how to retrieve the money if it goes to their Airtel Payments Bank.

When asked about this, Kumar said, “There’s a code which tells you where the money has gone. And if the money has gone to their phone, they will get the cash from Banda town, not here.”

“Only the educated can understand this enough to seek out their wages from the right sources. What about, say, an illiterate woman?” our reporter asked him.

To this his response was simply, “They should take someone along then.”

Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in Bundhelkhand.

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