While Finance Minister P Chidambaram has described cash transfer scheme as a 'game changer’', the people of Kotkasim in Rajasthan on whom the first cash transfer experiment was conducted say that they have been cheated of both kerosene and the subsidy that the Government so far has been paying on it.
Kotkasim which had 25,000 ration card holders and only 15,000 bank account holders saw an 80% fall in sale of kerosene in Kotkasim between December last year and now when the experiment was carried out.
'Beneficiaries' of the scheme from Kotkasim who today met Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh in the Capital say that many of them who had accounts did not get any subsidy payment the whole year.
Villagers showed their passbooks to show payments made only in December last year for three months and nothing thereafter.
"There were just six banks in the area, most of them several kilometres away. We are forced to make several trips just to enquire about the money,'' said a villager. The villagers who used to pay Rs 15 for a litre of kerosene were now paying Rs 50. The subsidy earlier borne by the Government was supposed to go directly to the accounts of the card holders.
"When we go to the bank, they call us a beggar who has come looking for Rs 90,'' said a villager, complaining of uncivil behaviour by bank personnel.
Activist Kavita Srivastav said that bank transfer had killed National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and now the same strategy is going to kill not only the ration system but also the food security of the poor.
Ashok Srivastav an activist from Rajasthan said that the scheme showed the Government’s callousness regarding the poor.Not only did it exclude those with no bank accounts, it also excluded those who failed to buy kerosene in any month.
"The bank transfer scheme was deprivation by design,'' Srivastava said.
We asked the minister why they were forcing villagers to open bank accounts when it amounted to harassment, said the activists who accompanied the villagers. The minister did not have time to speak to us as he had to leave, said the activists who included Annie Raja, Aradhana Talwar, and economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.