modi. dbt. jayalalitha. tn.

Resisting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for direct benefits transfer using Aadhaar, Tamil Nadu has refused to share list of its welfare scheme beneficiaries for matching with Aadhaar numbers, saying a hasty cross-checking exercise could end up denying benefits to hundreds of poor.

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should aadhaar be junked?

The last 60 days have not been good to India’s much-feted Aadhaar project.

On the 30th of January, the UPA pressed the pause button on direct benefits transfer for cooking gas. On 26 February, the Mumbai High Court directed Aadhaar to share its biometrics database with the CBI. A year earlier, a seven year old had been raped in Goa. And the investigating agency, struggling to make headway, had asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for biometrics it had collected in Goa. UIDAI refused to share information saying such a move would violate privacy of its number-holders and that its biometric database and deduplication systems were not designed for forensic inquiries. In response, the CBI went to the Mumbai High Court which directed UIDAI to share its database.

The third blow fell on 24 March when investigative journalism portal Cobrapost aired videos that allegedly showed UIDAI’s enrolment agencies agreeing to enrol people from neighbouring countries in return for a bribe. Between them, these three events underlined long-standing questions about the Aadhaar project.

Between them, these three developments highlighted large worries about the ambitious Aadhaar project. Read more here.

the upa puts dbt-lpg on hold

out today, this story by my colleague yogima seth and me on a surprise decision by the upa to pause its DBT programme for LPG.

The government’s decision to put the Aadhaar-based direct benefit transfer (DBT) for cooking gas on hold could be a blow to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), set up as one of the United Progressive Alliance’s flagship initiatives and aimed at ensuring that subsidies reached the right beneficiaries without fraudsters and middlemen ripping them off.  Ahead of elections, the government is at pains not to risk alienating any constituency, having already sustained heavy defeats in recent state elections, some of these in areas where the programme has been rolled out. Oil minister Veerappa Moily attributed the decision on Thursday to complaints about implementation of the scheme.

 

Dudu. Redux.

in october 2012, i had travelled to a tehsil in rajasthan called dudu where the congress formally announced that direct benefit transfers would be its magic bullet for the coming elections — in the state and nationally.

well, i just reported for a story by my colleague akshay deshmane on the role of DBT in the rajasthan elections. and this is what we concluded.

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.

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.

enter, contingent liability

The government’s plan to make the Aadhaar number the centrepiece of the cash-transfer system is now facing opposition from a new quarter: banks. Several banks, led by State Bank of India, have expressed reservation against jettisoning their current systems in favour of the platform created by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the Aadhaar number and wants to make it the basis to authenticate an individual’s identity before every transaction in bank accounts into which welfare benefits are deposited. These new lines of conflict are throwing posers to, and could even delay, what is being seen as UPA’s gambit for the next general elections, due in 2014: universalise cash transfers. The banks’ reservation to the UIDAI authentication platform, built along with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), a payment gateway, centres around two points…

A joint story by my young colleague at ET, Ahona Ghosh, and creaky old m rajshekhar.