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Direct benefits transfer: How the 'game' has changed

Business Standard 

It's been called a game-changer, a nationwide technology-backed initiative that promises to change the way the delivers entitlement to citizens. But a month after the (DBT) scheme was officially rolled out across 20 districts, a look at the ground realities reveals a yawning gap between intent and implementation. Of the five districts Business Standard visited, there are those, like Northeast Delhi, where not a single transfer has been made. Nonetheless, the challenge of simultaneously enrolling and opening bank accounts of millions of beneficiaries must be quickly surmounted, before the efficacy of the ambitious scheme can be adjudged.

ALWAR, RAJASTHAN: Innovation drives enrolment

Ashutosh A T Pednekar, the collector of Alwar, sits in a magnificent office in the city’s erstwhile palace, the same chamber from where Michael Francis O’Dwyer, the British administrator notorious for endorsing the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, once governed Rajasthan’s northern regions. Quite unlike his Irish predecessor’s legacy, this Goan civil servant is likely to be better known for an administrative innovation that may well turn out to be the blueprint for implementing the scheme launched on January 1.
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In a little more than two weeks, after the announced its intention to rollout the scheme in last December, Pednekar managed to achieve 100 per cent Aadhaar penetration among the 84,000 beneficiaries of 14 schemes in his district. “On December 15, about 22 per cent of the 84,000 beneficiaries in had Aadhaar cards,” says Pednekar. “So, to get to 100 per cent penetration, we broke the entire enrolment programme down to the panchayat level and planned the entire operation accordingly.”

Each of Alwar’s 472 panchayats has between 150 and 300 beneficiaries, who are entitled to benefits under four broad schemes: Elementary education, secondary education, social justice, and medical and health-related benefits.

Pednekar got a detailed list of beneficiaries drawn up in each panchayat under these schemes and instructed panchayat officials to ensure that those in their areas were enrolled. For beneficiaries under the elementary education benefit scheme, for instance, the school principal was made responsible for enrolments.

That apart, some 44 machines were pressed into service for enrolments during this period, with each machine averaging about 72 enrolments per day. “We created clusters, where four or five panchayats could be serviced by four to six machines, and the time-table was handled at the SDO (sub-divisional officer) level. At any college that had more than 100 students, we took a machine for enrolment. During this period, we completely stopped any general population enrolment. Otherwise, we would have been washed away.”

The focused enrolment of beneficiaries meant that the larger challenge of Aadhaar penetration was dealt with within weeks, but Pednekar was still left to contend with some 30,000 beneficiaries without bank accounts.

Instead of going through the lengthy know-your-customer (KYC) forms, Pednekar says he asked banks to provide the district administration with bank account numbers. “We mandated that the KYC forms would follow within a week. This helped us to seed the bank account numbers with the Aadhaar numbers quickly. But if the KYC form wasn’t completed, the account wouldn’t become operational.” Pednekar also ensured manual checking of the beneficiary bank accounts.

Since January 1, as a result, the district has transferred Rs 5.05 crore to 20,400 beneficiaries.

Suresh Chand Sharma, headmaster of the state-run Gandhi National School in Alwar’s old city, says a couple of his students were even invited to withdraw money via fingerprint authentication some weeks ago. “At the end of the month, we will ask for their bank passbooks and then we’ll know exactly what has happened.”

Nonetheless, the advantages of the system are clear. For scholarships, the previous process involved the money travelling through six administrative layers. Now, it’s been reduced to a two-step process.

DEVJYOT GHOSHAL

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