With an eye on the 2014 general election, the UPA government is expanding its ambitious Direct Benefit Transfer programme that promises welfare as cash in bank accounts. But without any groundwork it is only creating more trouble for beneficiaries
Come July 1, the UPA government will roll out the second phase of its ambitious programme, Direct Benefit Transfer or DBT. The programme aims to transfer welfare benefits, such as scholarship, pension and subsidies, directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. When the government kicked off the first phase in 43 districts in January this year, it hyped DBT as a “game changer” in the way it provides benefits to the people.
The controversy-hit UPA sees the programme as its trump card for the 2014 general election. It plans to expand DBT to 78 districts, covering almost a fifth of the country.
At the core of the scheme are bank accounts that have to be “seeded”—paired in lay lexicon—with a biometric-based Aadhaar card that assigns a unique identification number. As Down To Earth reporters travel to five states under DBT they report that thousands of beneficiaries are left out of the DBT coverage at every step of opening the Aadhaar-paired account
‘WHAT’S ACCOUNT SEEDING?’
When it comes to percolation of benefits through the UPA government’s ambitious direct benefit transfer (DBT) programme, Jharkhand fares the worst among states that Down To Earth visited. The programme remains a nonstarter in all the four districts in the state where it was rolled out in the first phase. And it is not difficult to figure out why.
Senior officials of the districts open up the discussion on DBT with a fundamental question: “What is seeding of bank account?” To the uninitiated, it means integrating one’s bank account with his or her unique identity (UID), or Aadhaar number. This helps the government access the details of the beneficiary and transfer welfare benefits as cash to his or her bank account. Thus, it is the single most important procedure to roll out DBT.
This ignorance among government officials is indicative of the state’s progress in implementing the ambitious programme of the UPA government. Seraikella-Kharsawan, the first district in the state under DBT since January, has more than 46,500 beneficiaries of different schemes. Only 500 are receiving the benefits.
In state capital Ranchi, District Information Officer Deepak Kumar claims 53,671 people are benefitting from 11 schemes under DBT. But the figure does not remain this impressive when Kumar divulges that the government has so far disbursed only Rs 16,454. This means each beneficiary has received Rs 3.20. This is a serious mismatch.
Confusion over numbers also reigns in Hazaribagh. At a recent review meeting of DBT, state chief secretary lauded Hazaribagh for the maximum Aadhaar coverage in the state. District UID officer Neetu Bharti says her department has issued Aadhaar cards to 9,000 people in Hazaribagh and all of them have seeded the card number with their bank accounts. But she admits that only 2,023 are receiving benefits.
According to the status report of the National Payments Corporation of India, the gateway for payment under DBT, released in March this year, cash benefits have returned from the bank accounts of 10-15 per cent beneficiaries even though the accounts were integrated with Aadhaar.
Lack of expertise or vested interest?
Till date, the UPA government has brought 25 Centrally funded schemes under DBT. But in Jharkhand, most schemes under DBT are state government sponsored. The Hazaribagh district administration claims to have brought 14 Central schemes under DBT, but 80 per cent of the beneficiaries are those enrolled for the state-sponsored scholarship and pension schemes. The Seraikella-Kharsawan district administration is yet to bring any Central scheme under the programme.
Analysts say such biased implementation could be politically motivated. The district is the Assembly constituency of Chief Minister Arjun Munda who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the opposition at the Centre.
The district authorities fail to give a clear answer for the tardy implementation of DBT. Sangram Besra, deputy development commissioner of Seraikella-Kharsawan, blames it on poor Aadhaar coverage. “Kuchai and Rajnagar blocks of the district that have seen Maoist violence in the past have not been even visited by UID teams. This is when there are 357 UID enrolment centres across the state,” says Besra. “I have no qualms in revealing that the 16,162 people enrolled for UID in the district, belong to urban and semi urban areas, not rural areas.” Until Aadhaar cards are made, Besra plans to use the database of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to disburse benefits.
Recently at a press conference in Ranchi, Nandan Nilekani, chairperson of the UID Authority of India, claimed that 20 million of a total 32.4 million people in the state have been enrolled for Aadhaar card. He also said every day about 69,000 people in Jharkhand are enrolling in Aadhaar. This means, within a year every resident of Jharkhand will have an Aadhaar card. But Nilekani evaded one crucial number, which is how many Aadhaar cards have been delivered to people and especially to those living in the hinterlands.
In Seraikella-Kharsawan’s Dugdha gram panchayat all the 450 tribals have enrolled in Aadhaar. Only 10 of them have received the card and are receiving old age pension through DBT. The rest are waiting for the card. And they are not the only ones. People in Maharashtra are also facing this problem.