ANUMEHA YADAV, Dec 16, 2012, The Hindu
- A Banking Correspondent makes pension and MNREGA payments to beneficiaries in Dohakatu village in Ramgarh district adjoining Ranchi. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
The technical glitches that plague cash transfers in Jharkhand may not have arisen with a simpler system that does not need Internet connectivity
Pilot cash transfer projects taken up in Jharkhand for MGNREGA wages have achieved little success due to a variety of logistical, human and technological problems. A year after the launch of these projects, the problems remain unsolved.
In Ramgarh district, a majority of the beneficiaries are in Dohakatu and Marar panchayats of Ramgarh block. Over 63,000 people enrolled for Aadhaar numbers in the two panchayats in Ramgarh block. Of these, only 2,312 were “mapped”, i.e., their Aadhaar numbers and their welfare details were linked together. Of 4,791 “active” job-card holders in the two panchayats, only 469 received MGNREGA payments through Aadhar-Enabled Cash Transfers (AECTs). Fifty km away in Ratu block in Ranchi, of 8,231 “active” job-card holders in three panchayats, those paid through AECTs was even lower: 162.
Ramgarh District Collector Amitabh Kaushal, who has been awarded the National Aadhaar Governance Award two years in a row, admits that the district’s administrative capacity is under strain and banks are not able to cope with the volume of transactions. Of eight banks on the Aadhaar platform, five got added only last month.
In Ramgarh and Ranchi, all accounts have so far been linked with the service area bank, Bank of India. “Initially many people turned up to enrol without their MGNREGA job-cards. So now we have to physically go house to house to find every job-card holder. In some places there was high enrolment but no BoI branch, in other places a branch existed but little enrolment,” says Mr. Kaushal. He rattles off a list of other concerns — bank technology upgrading, Internet connectivity in hilly areas, and availability, security and integrity of the cash-carrying Banking Correspondents (BCs).
At the Panchayat Bhavan at Dohakatu where most of the MGNREGA payments recorded were made, the BC, Rajesh Kumar, tries to rush through filling beneficiaries’ bank forms online — he has been asked to submit them by December 15 — but runs into many interruptions. “The line [power] came back only at noon. Last week two days there was no power and then there were server problems,” he says. But at three p.m., when he begins making payments to those who have queued up to collect wages for land-levelling work done under MGNREGA in November, there is anxiety but palpable excitement too.
Of the seven workers who take turns to scan their fingers, the micro-ATM Mr. Kumar operates recognises four. He pays them between Rs. 300-200 from the cash he withdrew at the bank that morning. For two workers the micro-ATM lists errors repeatedly. One worker’s account has still not been mapped. Of four pension beneficiaries who turn up, three collect their payments within an hour.
Dashay Bediya, a frail agricultural worker in a white shirt and dhoti, tries eight times, placing different fingers in the hope that one will work and then goes outside the office and scrubs his hands. He returns and tries five times more getting more anxious and disappointed each time. “Come after three to four days. Put Vaseline or Boroplus and rub your fingers before you go to sleep,” Mr. Kumar instructs before sending him back. And so the question, can the ease of payments at the household or panchayat level not be better achieved through smart cards that require neither real-time Internet connectivity, nor the creation of a massive centralised database like UIDAI’s that makes it harder to include those who missed enrolment the first time?
Dohakatu has had such a bevy of bureaucrats, officials and journalists visiting for months that the sarpanch, Kalawati Devi, now keeps a stock of mineral water bottles at the Panchayat Bhavan. At the site of the second pilot in Ratu block, however, things have not gone so smoothly even during officials’ visits. A few days before October 2 when the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand was to hand over pensions through AECTs at a function at Tigra panchayat, block officials and BCs tried frantically to make the fingerprints verification go through for 45 beneficiaries. It worked only in the case of nine.
Since October 2, even these nine have not been paid through AECTs even once, their payments still going to their old post-office accounts. The only reason they are still able to get their pensions is that the government kept open the option to withdraw the money at the post-office using their old passbooks.
“Half of MGNREGA workers’ fingerprints do not match. Maybe their fingerprints keep changing? In March I gave pension beneficiaries ID proofs to BoI so they open accounts and give passbooks. Then the bank manager changed in June and bank officials say they lost the documents. I gave the documents again in September but everyone is still waiting for passbooks,” says Tulsi Koeri, the BC in Puriyo panchayat, Ranchi.
The BC in nearby Tigra panchayat, Mahmood Alam, says of 383 whose MGNREGA accounts were mapped with Aadhaar since last December, only 102 have got passbooks, making it difficult for them to withdraw wages if they run into authentication or Internet connectivity problems.
Neither Mr. Koeri, nor Mr. Alam has been paid their monthly salary of Rs. 2,100 since they were hired as BCs last November by United Telecoms Limited (UTL) that BoI outsourced the work to. Mr. Kumar, Ramgarh’s BC, got paid for four months after the Collector, Mr. Kaushal, intervened in June. Even he has not been paid the last six months.
“I spend at least Rs. 400 per month on fuel for this work. In October at the PM’s video conference three of us were sent from Ratu, we paid over Rs. 2 lakh those three days. There have been 18-20 functions with officials from Delhi, Bangalore, even America. But if I ask for wages, UTL says if you do not like the work you can quit. Could you ask them about our wages please?” asks Mr Koeri.
Keywords: biometric identification,
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