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Monthly Archives: September 2013

bad for aadhaar, good for cash transfers?

What is the future of one of India’s most high profile government programmes after Monday’s Supreme Court interim ruling on Aadhaar? And is there a collateral damage on election-facing UPA’s ambitious welfare schemes? The answers are starkly different. Aadhaar, unless the Supreme Court changes its ruling in the final judgement, has received a body blow. But, ironically, minus the linkage with Aaadhar, UPA’s direct benefits transfer (DBT) programme can perhaps get a boost.

a quick and dirty story on the fallouts of the supreme court’s interim ruling barring states from making aadhaar mandatory for accessing welfare. i should have added a para discussing the fallouts of doing DBTs without aadhaar. while deduplication would suffer, the instances of the old, etc, struggling to get their entitlements due to poor biometrics would also go away — assuming, that is, the new processes set in place by states do not use biometrics at all.

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in which the environment ministry decides to ignore its own laws…

By slapping a Rs 200-crore penalty on the Adani Group for environmental violations, the ministry of environment and forests may be breaking its own laws, say environmental lawyers. According to Delhi-based environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, the two laws that define the penal framework for such violations — the Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) — don’t give the ministry the powers to levy a fine. “They empower the ministry to start criminal prosecution in a court and to cancel an environmental clearance,” he says. “There is nothing in the laws giving the ministry any power to levy such a penalty.”

one of the defining traits of the upa regime has been its opportunistic relationship with the rule of law. this story, out today, again highlights that tendency.

the promises and perils of using databases for welfare delivery

Imagine a database that contains the following data about your family. Household level information like address, caste, asset ownership, the kind of house you live in, when you came to the city/village where you now stay, ration card number, etc. And individual level information about including names, ages, educational background, occupation, incomes, bank accounts, existing illnesses, UID numbers, PAN numbers, welfare entitlements, etc, of your family members. And now, imagine this database is to be for determining your tax obligations. Also imagine it will be visible to — for they are the ones maintaining it — government employees in the block/district office.

The pros and cons are immediately obvious. If the government has near-perfect information about everyone’s financial status, tax fraud will come down. However, if the information is wrong or if it is accessed by outsiders, the consequences for you could be severe.

The government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) is creating something similar — not for the urban affluents but for the poor.

Between December 2012 and now, it has taken the MoRD’s SECC (Socio Economic and Caste Census) survey and added household and individual level information like address, number of members, bank account numbers, NREGA card numbers, their entitlements, the quantum of land they own, whether the house is kuchcha or pucca, if it has a toilet, and so on. So far, about 85% of the households in the state, about 2.5 crore people, have been enrolled across urban and rural MP. It intends to use this database, called Samagra, for determining eligibility amongst the poor for welfare entitlements like pensions, scholarships and food.

Is this a good idea? The state government thinks so. But, if you look at a similar experiment carried out in Delhi, you will see how the use of databases can all too easily go wrong as well.

In 2008, the Congress government in Delhi had similar intentions in mind when it decided to overhaul its welfare delivery. Today, that failed experiment with databases reveals everything that can go wrong with databases: from exclusion to selective updation, from political profiling to privacy issues.

Delhi overhauled its welfare delivery architecture in two ways. One, it brought in databases. Two, it outsourced the last mile between the government and the people to NGOs. Both moves have badly failed. Please to be clicking on the links for more. Thank you.

gautam adani and what he tells us about modern india

containers stacked outside adani's mundra port.

containers stacked outside adani’s mundra port.

today’s economic times carries my story on the rise of infrastructure tycoon gautam adani. here. also see this story.

why the food security bill may not be the voter magnet the upa expects it to be

from a previous trip to bastar to study the village level impact of chhattisgarh's food security programme

from a previous trip to bastar to study the village level impact of chhattisgarh’s food security programme

The sheer sweep and scale of the National Food Security Bill — subsidised food of subsistence quantities to up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population—suggests it could be an election game-changer for the ruling Congress-led UPA. But when seen along with the way this legislation will be implemented, the NFSB’s pull for the Congress as a voter magnet in the 2014 elections is considerably dulled.

State governments will be in charge of implementing the NFSB, through their respective public distribution systems (PDS). The NFSB effectively sets the floor for food entitlements, but states are free to offer more. In terms of their existing food security programmes and the efficiency of their PDS, states can essentially be divided into two categories.

The first category is states that are already giving a larger food entitlement than what the Centre is promising and where the PDS is efficient: for example, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh. Here, the NFSB will, mostly, not be delivering new benefits to the people. The NFSB can make a difference in the second category of states, whose current food entitlements are smaller: like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But to do so, it will have to fix the hugely corrupt PDS in these states, a tall ask in a year.

“We will see rapid implementation of the NFSB only in those Congress-ruled states where improvements in the PDS are possible,” says Himanshu, an assistant professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, tracking agricultural change.

also see this story on how chhattisgarh’s food security programme changed the state.