Aadhaar shows India’s governance is susceptible to poorly tested ideas pushed by powerful people

This series has flagged a puzzling trend. State governments are struggling to use Aadhaar-based fingerprint authentication in ration shops. At the same time, a rising number of companies are integrating Aadhaar into their databases.

This is puzzling because from its inception, Aadhaar, India’s Unique Identification project, was pitched as integral to the modernisation of social welfare delivery in India.

Why is it failing at the job it was created for while proving useful elsewhere?

The answers vary depending on whom you ask. Former officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India, the government agency which issues Aadhaar numbers and manages the database, blame state governments and banks for poor execution of Aadhaar-based welfare delivery. State governments in turn blame banks and poor internet connectivity and the failures of biometrics-based technology.

These are – at best – incomplete explanations.

The roots of Aadhaar’s mission drift lie deeper.

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is the forest rights act being implemented well? (the answer is ‘no’)

Last month, union tribal Minister Jual Oram told the Lok Sabha that India is making “satisfactory progress” implementing the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA). However, a closer look at the numbers he submitted in the house indicates otherwise.
my story on how the government’s claims about “satisfactory” implementation of the forest rights act are garbage. what is underway is a game with statistics.

on how the upa’s development initiatives might fare under the nda

out today, a story on the possible outlook for the upa’s major development initiatives — aadhaar, cash transfers, npr, rights-based legislations, the proposed environment authority, the land acquisition bill — once the modi government takes over. 

upa1 vs upa2

and so, upa2 presented its final budget – a vote on account – yesterday. and i wrote this quick little story comparing the developmental efforts of upa1 and upa2.

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.

in which the UPA window-dresses nrega

for a while now, we have known that nrega is not doing as well as before. this fact was painfully brought home last week when the hindustan times carried a story reporting that some nrega workers had committed suicide due to delays in payments. however, if you read the booklet that accompanied the prime minister’s press conference on the fourth of this month, you would have thought nrega is flourishing.

amazing what one can do thru the selective use of data. take a look. striking too that nrega did well during UPA1 and then worsened during UPA2. which seems like a pretty common refrain.

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.