Cash transfer would be a test for Aadhaar but the poor would pay the price
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Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi Dec 16, 2012,, business standdar
Technology can be good. But should it be first tested on the poor, who can barely read and write? Then, leave them at the mercy of unkind banks and other agencies?
There are basically two requirements to be eligible for the cash transfer scheme. One, you should have a bank account. Two, you should have an Aadhaar number. Both are scarce and the government is in a tearing hurry.
These factors make a recipe for disaster. The only consolation for the government that hopes to ride on cash transfer in the next election is that benefits of many schemes, which will come under cash transfer, will never reach the poor. So, most people would not find out what they are missing.
For instance, half of the ration card holders never got anything. May be half of those who needed ration cards never even got the cards. Migrants in urban areas are excluded from benefits because their ration cards, issued by their states, don’t work in other states. Getting a new ration card is out of question, considering their inability to produce a local address proof.
Now, they are required to produce a new document — an Aadhaar card. In Thrissur district in Kerala, some people had to return from an Aadhaar enrolment camp because they were too old and their biometric mapping could not be captured on machines.
When technology fails, it is not the technology that gets rejected. It is the people who are rejected. So, these people – mostly old – with no income, and dependent on their children, would now be deprived of rice and gas subsidies.
As these cases multiply, they add up to even more poverty, malnutrition and hunger, and above all, anger — a fact that the ruling Congress must bear in mind.
Aadhaar and the cash transfer scheme, therefore, despite their possibilities would now act as measures to exclude a large number of people from whatever subsidies are available now, as in the case of cylinders and kerosene.
If this experiment was being conducted in a society ensured of some kind of social security such as pension – good enough to support the people in their old age – then this may not have hurt the poor. The best thing in these circumstances is to give people an option to choose between cash and kind.
This will ensure that no one will get excluded – not even Nandan Nilekeni and his project Unique Identification – or those who are staunch believers in cash transfer.
The only ray of hope is that the Centre cannot force state governments in implement the scheme. As Food Minister K V Thomas said states were free to give cash in place of food and other benefits, or just transfer the subsidy component in cash-to-bank accounts.
That would at least prevent jeopardising the existing system in many states, where genuine efforts have been made to make it work. Thomas offered another possibility that could make cash transfer less painful. He said instead of insisting on an Aadhaar card, documents like national population register card or ration card could be considered.
The pilot cash transfer project in Kotkasim in Rajasthan is a warning. The delays in cash transfer by nearly a year and the exclusion of over 5,000 ration card holders, who did not have accounts, expose callousness. Even a single case of a penurious old labour in Kotkasim having to go to a bank seven to 17 km away to inquire about the subsidy transfer to his bank, and the loss of his wages, are enough to condemn the scheme.