Budget 2021

‘Aadhaar has no role in plugging leakages’

Surabhi New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2018

REETIKA KHERA, Associate Professor of Economics at IIT-Delhi

The government must universalise social security pensions for the elderly, single women and persons with disabilities and also operationalise the maternity entitlement scheme at the earliest, says Reetika Khera, Associate Professor of Economics at IIT-Delhi. In an interview to BusinessLine, Khera argued against the use of Aadhaar for authentication of beneficiaries and said it has “no role in plugging leakages or in the identification of correct beneficiaries”. Excerpts:

In the last four years, the NDA government has been working on schemes for direct benefit transfer for food, and other welfare schemes. What has been the impact on people's lives?

The Public Distribution System (PDS) has faced continuous, disguised, assaults in the NDA regime. First, the government imposed compulsory Aadhaar-based biometric authentication. A recent survey of 900 households in Jharkhand found that it excludes the most vulnerable (such as old widows who cannot go to the shop to authenticate themselves) and leads to great hardship for others (repeated trips because the technology is inappropriate for rural Jharkhand).

In Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadar and Nagar Haveli, the government is experimenting with cash transfers.

An evaluation commissioned by the government found that one-fifth of the people were not getting the cash at all! If DBT is supposed to be a solution to corruption, it clearly leaves much to be desired.

Third, in Nagri Block (Jharkhand) the subsidy (market price minus the PDS price) is transferred to bank accounts. People are running from pillar to post to find out whose account the money has been transferred to, and then making several trips to figure out if the money has been transferred, and once they manage to get the cash, they go to the PDS outlet to get their grain.

A lot of focus is on plugging leakages and reaching the right beneficiaries. Apart from Aadhaar, are there other ways for authentication?

Aadhaar has no role in plugging leakages or in the identification of correct beneficiaries. As far as the last mile authentication is concerned, there were interesting experiments in Puducherry and Chhattisgarh, but those have effectively been nixed by the Central Government in favour of Aadhaar.

Are interventions for providing social security still lacking?

On December 31, 2016, the Prime Minister had announced that maternity entitlements, the fourth component of the National Food Security Act 2013, would finally be operationalised. A whole year has passed and the programme is yet to kick off in any meaningful way. Even the guidelines that have been formulated, attempt to dilute the provision in the Act (₹6,000 per child).

What would be the one social sector announcement you would like in the Union Budget 2018-19?

Sixty economists had written to the government last month urging it to universalise social security pensions for the elderly, single women and persons with disabilities with the Central contribution pegged at ₹500 per person per month. The second demand was to initiate the maternity entitlement scheme. The government must do this without delay, as the total outlay for these schemes is easily affordable.

Published on January 10, 2018

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