For a system geared to control and command, cash transfers pose an implementation challenge


Sandipan Deb ,

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200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



First Published: Thu, Nov 29 2012. 02 19 PM IST


Respected prime minister ji, I am manager of bank in V___ (name censored under official secrecy, sedition, information technology and 11 other Acts; six loiterers outside bank branch given breathalyzer tests, two security guards at bank suspended for “poking” each other on Facebook), class VI town in Uttar Pradesh and I am hearing about this direct cash transfer business for few years now. I am also attended two-day training programme for bank officers on this in December 2011 at L___ (censored under ibid, nota bene, etc.,). Now I am hearing this is happening, and in my district. Sir, I am feeling very confused.


Then my one more neighbour is coming. He is saying, Arre, murkh, you look at the 29 schemes that will start on 1 January. They are all cash schemes anyway: scholarships and pensions. So how is anything changing? People will only now come to your bank with Aadhaar cards. And if they don’t have Aadhaar cards, you don’t pay.
I am reading in the papers and also watching on TV that this is a “game changer” and I am having to convince my foolish neighbour that cash transfer changing game has nothing to do with cricket match-fixing (He is very angry about defeat to British team in Mumbai). It has to do with election, but he is saying all same. I am telling him that now I will have to open hundreds of new savings accounts, and I am having only three clerks and Mrs Singh, who is sister-in-law of MLA and only comes to bank twice a day to light agarbatti in front of poster of Mr Aamir Khan she has put up. My security guards have been suspended by competent authority under Public Decency Act. How I will serve so many customers?
But the money for pensions and scholarships are not coming to my bank in time, I am saying. They are months late sometimes. In a few cases, they are two years late. How will having Aadhaar change that? Also, how will Aadhaar know who is poor and who is not poor? Poor and rich, I am thinking, don’t have different fingerprints. Not to worry, my neighbour is telling me. Aadhaar will know everything about you, where you go, what you buy, all your hanky-panky. Mrs Singh will put all in computer. She can have screensaver of Mr Aamir Khan also. Her computer will be linked to many other computers and no hanky-panky will be allowed. More than 21 crore people are having Aadhaar and they will come and take cash. What do you care if they are poor or not? They have Aadhaar.
What about people who are not having Aadhaar? I am asking. Then they will bring enrolment forms for Aadhaar, my neighbour is saying. If they don’t have that also, they will bring sarpanch and hold dharnas outside your bank, that is all. Anyway, the roads are so bad, they will take two days to reach your bank, Aadhaar or no Aadhaar. During monsoon, three months, no one will come.
But I am knowing so many people who have Aadhaar cards but who are not those people at all, I am saying. So my neighbour is asking me if I have targets. Yes, I tell him, and I am meeting disbursal targets every year by giving money to MLA and his cousins. Aadhaar people also have targets, my neighbour is saying. They have to give so many cards every month. So some fictitious fellows and non-Indians may have come in. But you do not worry. You open account. And they will withdraw money from ATM.
ATM? What ATM? I am saying. There will be many ATMs, my neighbour is explaining, that will go in cars from village to village and people will take out cash from them. But where will cash in the ATMs come from? I am asking. What do you care? He is telling me. Private sector is there. Will that be real cash? I am asking. Mostly, he is saying. You are not hearing of white-label ATMs? Now you don’t have to be bank to set up ATM.
Also panchayats and cooperative societies will be giving the cash, so you need not worry about only three clerks and no security guard. You will only be sending report on computer. But all panchayats and cooperative societies are run by my MLA and his cousins, I am telling, so there will be hanky-panky! But my neighbour is saying, no. No hanky-panky possible when technology is there. People can want to be badmaash, but telephone and computer will not allow. Only big people will be able to continue to do badmaashi now. You are kis khet ki mooli?
All this time, my friend who is guide for poverty tourism is listening and downloading ring tunes. He is now saying, but cash transfer is already happening in many states. With own eyes I saw. In Bihar and Orissa, they are giving money for cycles and school uniforms. In other states also. Lots of bearded firangs in SUVs are coming and taking video. So what is new?
No game change, my foolish neighbour is then saying. The British will win in Kolkata also.
So, sir, I am scratching my head only about this. Also, sir, can I meet my disbursal targets if MLA and cousins don’t have Aadhaar cards? I am not wanting any untoward incidents, sir. I am small man.

Sandipan Deb is a senior journalist and editor who is interested in puzzles of all forms.