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 …
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 DBTÃ”Ã‡Ãªas 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.
In Yelakeli, 70-year-old Kaushalyabai Shete has stopped receiving old age pension since January after she failed to produce her Aadhaar card. In nearby Babhulgaon village, 17-year-old Sonali Hajare informs that six students, including her, did not receive scholarship for want of the card.
A sense of panic grips people as the district has begun disbursing important subsidies like those for cooking gas through DBT from June 1. Plans to disburse MGNREGA wages and fertiliser subsidy through Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts are also in the pipeline. These schemes target a larger mass of people. As the kharif season approaches, the greatest anxiety is regarding fertiliser subsidies.
“I could not enrol when the Aadhaar camp was organised in my village. I was visiting my relatives,” says 68-year-old Moreshwar Lonkar from Yelakeli. “Now the camp is over. The sowing season is very close and we will have to pay double the price for fertiliser, which we can ill afford,” says he.
District collector N Nawin Sona admits that the Aadhaar enrolment drive did not turn out as it should have been. The district started with 35 UID machines and is now left with only 17. “With most of the works done here, the machines have been moved to other districts,” says Sona.
Social activists and panchayat members give a different reason for the poor Aadhaar coverage. They say camps were held without proper awareness among people about the programme and without any coordination with panchayats. “The UID team shut camps and left when they pleased, regardless of whether all people in the village had been enrolled or not,” says Aruna Bahadure, panchayat member of Yelakeli.
Card or no card, one thing that worries everyone is whether the subsidies that are proposed to be DBT-linked will really be credited to the bank account, and in time. “Once the linkage is made, the price of fertilisers will double,” says Pilaram Champatrao Raut, a farmer from Ghorad village, one of the showcase villages of the district administration for DBT implementation. If subsidy reaches late, farmers will be in deep trouble, says farmer Ambadas Chambhare. “It will not make fertilisers any cheaper. What is wrong with the subsidy system?” he asks.
Input dealers are equally apprehensive. “Once the subsidised supply stops we will have to make a higher investment to procure stocks,” says Pankaj Kamdi, a dealer from Seloo. “We will not be able to give farmers the informal loan because of high risks. It will impact farmer’s economy as well as our business,” he adds.
Sona says his administration is
making all efforts to ensure that subsidies are credited to the beneficiary’s account within 24 hours. However, at this moment, assurances are cold comfort. The poor of Wardha have their fingers crossed.
“How can a government, which is not able to transfer welfare benefits even after months, credit subsidies within 24 hours?” asks Pushpa Behade of Ghorad. Behade, a farm hand, has not received widow pension since January, although she has an Aadhaar card and a bank account. It appears Behade’s Aadhaar number has not been integrated with her bank account. This lack of knowledge has left thousands of beneficiaries like Behade bereft of their dues, particularly in Rajasthan.
| Suraksha compromised
The Wardha district administration has been much lauded for its prompt implementation of Janani Suraksha Yojana through DBT. It was one of the first schemes to be brought under DBT in Wardha. The administration held camps to enrol pregnant women all over the district and roped in anganwadi workers and auxiliary nurse midwives to open their bank accounts. Anupam Hivlekar, medical officer of Wardha Civil Hospital, says there were initial hitches in transferring the benefits due to lack of Aadhaar cards. But that has been sorted out. “We now have the district collector’s instruction to pay all beneficiaries regardless of Aadhaar. Women who do not have bank accounts are being paid through account payee cheques,” says Hivlekar.
But everyone appears to have missed out the fact that a disturbingly large number of women do not have bank accounts, a must for encashing account payee cheques. The civil hospital’s own figures show 1,718 of the 1,873 beneficiaries were paid through account payee cheques till May 23. The cheques have a validity of three months. Bearer cheque option has been stopped since DBT was introduced.
Even the cash-on-bedside through micro-ATM option works only for account holders. The civil hospital’s report mentions that beneficiaries paid through cheques could not cash them in the absence of bank accounts, but provides no numbers. There is no explanation why such a situation has arisen. When Down To Earth shared the report with district collector N Nawin Sona and Mohan Mahshankar, general manager of Bank of India, lead bank for DBT in Wardha, they expressed bewilderment. Sona said there may have been laxity in implementation, and that he would ask hospitals to refer all cases where cheques have been issued to the bank for action.
Udaipur, Ajmer and Alwar of Rajasthan are among the first 20 districts in the country to roll out DBT in January. Five months on, many beneficiaries say they prefer the earlier system of payment through cash or bearer cheques. Their aversion is not unreasonable. Barely 23 per cent of the beneficiaries in these districts have received government benefits in their accounts since DBT was introduced. Of the rest, most have been left out of DBT as their accounts are not seeded with Aadhaar. As of April, 24,000 of the 33,000 beneficiaries in Udaipur were not receiving benefits due to this reason.
Those who have Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts also face problems, mostly due to technical glitches at the bank. M P Dungarwal, manager of the Malwa Ka Choura branch of Punjab National Bank, that has been assigned to facilitate DBT, told Down To Earth that increasing workload without a robust technical backup is hindering the roll-out. Before DBT, the bank had 4,500 accounts. Now there are 15,000. All these accounts must be seeded with Aadhaar and linked to the electronic payment system. But the branch suffers from poor internet connectivity that cripples the programme, says Dungarwal. Incomplete information on the Aadhaar card is another problem. Many names do not have surnames. It is difficult to process such incomplete identity information from banking point of view, he adds.
People’s woes do not end here. The account opened for DBT does not accept cheques that the beneficiary receives under government schemes yet to be brought under the DBT regime.
Dharamchand Grecia, a banking correspondent of Punjab National Bank for Kyari panchayat in Udaipur, says he has helped people open some 200 DBT accounts. “But they have limited features and people end up opening another bank account by shelling out Rs 1,000 to encash government cheques.”
In February, Naveli Bai of Piparmal village in Udaipur received a cheque of Rs 1,400 under Janani Suraksha Yojana, which offers incentive for institutional delivery. “The cheque will lapse next month if I fail to open another account by then,” she says. Naveli already has an Aadhaar-enabled bank account.
Maternity benefit programmes are losing appeal since DBT was rolled out in Rajasthan. Consider Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana. The scheme promises Rs 4,000 to a pregnant woman after she attains a certain nutrition status and receives vaccinations before and after delivery. Documents available at the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) office of Jhadol block in Udaipur show only 10 of the 35 pregnant women registered under the scheme have availed the incentive since January 2013. Maya Parmar, supervisor of Mahila Bal Vikas Kendra under Jhadol ICDS, says, “We have been asked to provide benefits to only those who have Aadhaar cards. But very few have the card.” Most do not have the required documents like voter identity cards and other residential proofs to get themselves enrolled in Aadhaar. It is difficult for expecting mothers to stand in the long queue for enrolment, she adds.
| Middlemen continue to rule the roost
Kotkasim block in Alwar district hosts India’s first experiment to directly transfer cash subsidy instead of distributing kerosene through the public distribution system (PDS). This is supposed to be an experiment that will craft the government’s future plan to disburse subsidies through direct benefit transfer (DBT).
Started in December 2011, the experiment suffers from the same glitches that DBT faces in other areas. Ram Avtaar Yadav, a 60-year-old, partially blind resident of Kanherka village, has a regular question to any stranger he thinks is a government official: “Why have I not received kerosene subsidy in my account?” For the past seven months Yadav has been buying kerosene from the Fair Price Shop (FPS) at market price but he didn't get cash subsidy in his account. Since the cost of kerosene is more than that of diesel, many people like Yadav have started using diesel for lighting their houses.
Says Mukesh Sharma, manager of Rajasthan Rural Bank, “Earlier, PDS dealers acted as middlemen. They kept ration cards of beneficiaries with them and filled them as per their wish. The system exists even now, though in a different way.” Sharma, whose bank is facilitating DBT in Kotkasim, elaborates: instead of ration card, beneficiaries submit a bank account number at the fair price shop while buying kerosene. The shop owner must share the account number with the bank along with the bill so that the beneficiary receives the subsidy in his account. But shop owners often write their account numbers or that of their kins on the bill. Sharma suggests that the government should rope in gram sevaks (village development officer) and patwaris (village accountants) to check this practice.
Aadhaar card a dream in Mumbai
The urban poor is worse off than his rural counterpart when it comes to getting benefits through DBT. Mumbai’s poor have redefined DBT to Delayed Benefits Transfer, and twisted UPA’s slogan aapka paisa, aapke haath (your money in your hands) into aapka paisa, Aadhaar bharose (your money depends on Aadhaar). They have a reason. Most of them have stopped benefitting from government schemes since the launch of DBT. Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban fare the lowest when it comes to distributing Aadhaar cards to the target sections. The worst affected are students belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes and other backward sections who receive scholarships. It provides for the course fees and a nominal grant for students’ expenses.
Pratik Jadhav, a student of South Mumbai’s Siddharth College, says he did not receive the Post-Matric scholarship for SCs this year as he does not have an Aadhaar card. “My father had to take loans for paying the fee,” he says. At Shindewadi municipal school, Kiran Rathod was taken aback when the school authorities told her that her children would not receive Pre-Matric scholarship this year. The scheme supports education of children whose parents are engaged in occupations such as manual scavenging and tanning. When asked why the children were deprived of the benefits, an official from the Social Justice and Special Assistance Department says, inadequate Central grants for scholarship schemes is always a problem. Unavailability of Aadhaar cards is making it worse. Since the introduction of DBT, only 2,471 of the 10,920 SC students and 1,459 of the 8,796 Other Backward Class students have received the annual scholarship. Of the 8,405 beneficiaries from manual scavenging and tanning professions, the administration could reach only 689. Though the Rathods have applied for Aadhaar cards, officials say it would take them four to five months to issue the cards.
What is complicating the scenario is the state’s changing decision. “Soon after launching DBT, the government made Aadhaar card mandatory for all schemes. However, when questions were raised in the Assembly about the inconvenience to people, the government relaxed it in last week of March. Now it has again made it mandatory.
Only tall claims
The Delhi government claims 95 per cent success in providing an Aadhaar number to citizens. But its achievement does not seem to be trickling down to the poor of the national capital.
According to Dharampal, divisional commissioner of Delhi and nodal officer of DBT for the state, Delhi has brought nine Central schemes under DBT. Though 22,000 beneficiaries have Aadhaar cards and their UID numbers seeded with bank accounts, only 9,000 are receiving benefits. Dharampal says the state-sponsored Annshree Yojana is doing well in comparison to the Central schemes under DBT. All the 45,000 identified beneficiaries of Annshree Yojana are receiving benefits. Their number would increase to 100,000 in next couple of months, he claims. Ground realities paint a different picture.
All 50 Bengali Muslim families living in Shahbad Dairy slum in North Delhi earn their bread by ragpicking on the streets. They are eligible for Annshree, under which a BPL family without a ration card receives Rs 600 a month for food. Almost all of them have enrolled themselves in Aadhaar and have seeded their UID number with their bank accounts.
Yet they are running from pillar to post to avail the benefits. So far, only seven families have received the benefits. One of them is Murshid Bibi’s family.
In April, Bibi’s account was credited with Rs 7,199. But her relatives Hadisa Bibi and Tojila Bibi are yet to receive the benefit. In January, they had spent Rs 1,000 each for opening new accounts after bank officials told them that their old accounts cannot be integrated with Aadhaar. But their hopes have turned into frustration.
There are three key reasons for this dismal performance which are also fundamental to a cash transfer programme. They are: low coverage of formal banking system; Aadhaar enrollment not keeping pace with the rolling out of the programme; and significantly low level of pairing of beneficiaries’ accounts with their Aadhaar numbers.
Currently, there is one bank branch for every 12,100 people, making India one of the least covered countries. DBT increases the demand for coverage by several times. The government either has to set up new branches or increase the existing branches’ capacity. Going by the state of banking in rural areas, one rural branch has the capacity to open up not more than 15 accounts in a day. But DBT experience in various states shows that a branch has to manage 70-90 accounts a day. In October 2011, the government made it compulsory for banks to open branches in all habitations with a population of 5,000 or more. There were 3,925 such habitations to be covered. By April 2013, nearly 15 per cent habitations were yet to have a bank. Then, there are not enough ATMs for people to access their money easily. According to RBI’S estimate, the country needs at least 34,668 on-site ATMs but only 1,097 ATMs could be opened till April. This has affected DBT’s outreach because absence of ATMs means the already overburdened banks have to handle the withdrawal transactions as well.
Opening an account under DBT is a little different. For this people require enrolment with Aadhaar. This presents the next obstacle. Only half of the beneficiaries have enrolled with Aadhaar till date and one-third have opened the account. Importantly, there is hardly any visible effort to pair the accounts with the Aadhaar numbers, thus, leaving out 96 per cent of the beneficiaries.
The recently launched cooking gas subsidy transfer also faces this problem, with added intensity. An LPG consumer has to pair his Aadhaar number with not only the bank account but also the service provider. Soon after bringing LPG under DBT, the government celebrated a million transactions by June end. But there are widespread complaints also. Only 20 per cent of the consumers had paired their numbers with accounts, while about 58 per cent paired with service providers. This is despite the fact that the 20 districts where LPG was brought under DBT have more than 90 per cent Aadhaar coverage. Sujata Chaturvedi, deputy director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), says, “Some states started late, so they lagged. We want to keep pace but problems like lack of machines, staff and awareness among people came to the fore.” She warns, “The process of seeding of account would be another uphill task.”
On April 29, the Planning Commission convened a meeting to take stock of DBT’s progress. Collectors of all the 121 districts to be covered under the programme from July 1 and other key players attended the meeting. Sources inform that to the shock of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the banks and district officials blamed each other for the shortcomings, reflecting a sorry state of affairs. Notable was the absence of any representative from the DBT gateway, National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), which came under severe criticism at the meeting.
It seems nobody wants to take responsibility (see ‘Initial hiccups...’). The Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) blames the banks for not expanding their reach. The ministry is implementing a pilot programme of direct cash transfer of wages under the rural employment guarantee programme in five states. It is using the national electronic fund transfer system, the usual money transfer one does electronically using individual account. Since its launch in October 2012 it has transferred Rs 389 crore till the end of May this year. “The value addition under DBT will be when the money is paid at the doorstep. It is only possible if banks recruit business correspondents in every panchayat with micro-ATM,” suggests Rajesh Bhushan, joint secretary of MoRD. But banks informally blame the Aadhaar system and the high administrative cost of the programme that is not adequately compensated. DTE reached out to many banks but none of them agreed to speak on the subject.
Banks also refuse to take responsibility for the identity generated under the Aadhaar number. All banks are supposed to keep a record of their customers’ identity under RBI’s “know your customer” rules. UIDAI has refused to take the responsibility, saying its job is only to create the identification number.
The troubles do not end there. “Many accounts seeded with Aadhaar numbers still do not get direct payment,” points out Vaibhav Galeria, district collector of Ajmer. “There is lack of coordination among different agencies, largely between banks and NPCI.” A P Hota, managing director and CEO of NPCI, blames banks for the glitches. Responding to DTE queries, Hota denies any technical problem at the gateway. “For felicitating DBT, NPCI maintains the Aadhaar Mapper (software that keeps all the subscribers’ data). This Mapper is updated remotely by banks by logging into the NPCI system. If banks do not update the Mapper, the transactions are likely to be returned unprocessed. Therefore, it is necessary that banks update the Mapper on a day-to-day basis.”
The problems are set to multiply as the government rolls out the second phase of DBT with 78 more districts from July 1. In June, it launched transfer of subsidy for cooking gas. In October, the rural employment guarantee programme will be brought under DBT. From 1.6 million beneficiaries at present the programme will cover close to 25 million beneficiaries by July. With coverage of MGNREGA, the number of beneficiaries will jump to 34 million. That the government is nervous is visible. Since April, there have been hectic attempts to salvage the situation, with the Prime Minister’s Office taking direct charge of DBT monitoring.
However, there are pertinent lessons for the government to make the future transfers smooth. The experiences of transferring pension in Andhra Pradesh and transferring wage under the rural employment programme in Rajasthan are instructive. In both the cases, the government embarked on a preparatory stage. This resulted in innovation. In Andhra Pradesh, the pension receivers go to the local self-help group and give thumb impression to a hand-held device for verification to get pension right there. This device is linked to the person’s account in post office or the local bank. In Jharkhand, government simply used the electronic transfer system to give wages. There are merits in these experiments in terms of simplifying the system. But these experiments may not be leakage-proof. Teething problems like delay in benefit transfer and absence of value addition in DBT also need to be addressed innovatively.
But the question that still needs to be asked and answered is whether the country is prepared for this roll-out? If not, will this election initiative backfire on the ruling UPA? Clearly, god is in the details, and the details are missing.
|DBT: Initial hiccups or a mistake in haste?
Ministry of Rural Development
Till date, the 25 schemes rolled out under DBT are Centrally funded. So it has been easy to send money directly to the beneficiaries' accounts. But implementing those pension schemes that have state budgets as well is going to be tough. The finance ministry is the key body for such schemes, but it is unable to send money directly to the beneficiary’s account because of varying structures of schemes across states. I believe the scheme will be effective if payment is made at the doorstep. And this can be made possible by recruiting millions of business correspondents of banks in every panchayat with Micro-ATM
Aadhaar Should Have Been Implemented Years Ago
Deputy Director General,
The idea of providing unique identity number should have been implemented 25 years ago. We have registered nearly 300 million people under Aadhaar. It is the duty of the state government to organise camps to enrol its people. Sometimes seasonal problems like floods and festivals slow the enrolment process. I agree that the process of seeding of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts would be another uphill task
Blame Banks For The Glitches And Non-Cooperation
A P Hota,
National Payment Corporation of India (gateway for payment under DBT)
There is no technical problem at the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI). For facilitating DBT, NPCI maintains the Aadhaar Mapper. Banks update this Mapper remotely by logging into the NPCI system. If the banks do not do so, the transactions are likely to be returned unprocessed. Therefore, it is necessary that banks update the Mapper on a day-to-day basis
Seeding Of Accounts Taking Time
Planning Commission of India
There is a delay in enrolments under Aadhaar and seeding of accounts. It is a time-consuming exercise. But the fact is there is a growing acceptance of cash incentives offered through DBT
Don't replace goods and Services with cash
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
We are not against the idea of Aadhaar-related cash transfer. Our main concern is replacement of goods and services with cash. Government’s own data shows that DBT has failed to benefit the poor. Pension scheme is good option for cash transfer. Janani Surksha Yojana is successful without technology
Things Will Be Good
Montek Singh Ahluwalia
Planning Commission of India
I agree that there is lack of coordination among different agencies. Even the prime minister is working on it. The glitches and delays are all transitional issues. It will definitely be sorted out in the coming months
Jitendra reported from Rajasthan and Delhi; Aparna Pallavi and Akshay Deshmane from Maharashtra; Alok Gupta from Jharkhand and M Suchitra from Andhra Pradesh
A look at the progress of the Congress-led alliance's flagship programmes
Government scales down UID-linked scheme to 248,000 people in 20 districts
Say linking cash transfers with Aadhaar will cause problems
Government unprepared but goes ahead with direct cash transfer
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.