Covering economy and policy in India can be hugely frustrating. One day you can hear how government wishes to launch a great new welfare scheme, which uses the latest technology and aims at targeting the most distressed. The very next day you could come across enough evidence of how that scheme is considered vile and unacceptable by the most needy themselves. What reconciles these two polar opposites is a mix of politics, misinformation and the legacy of decades of poor administration. India’s first direct cash transfer scheme – Delhi Annshri Yojana (DAY) – to be set in motion from 15th December is a very good example of this. Let me introduce the scheme before introducing Rukhsana, the typical beneficiary DAY aims to target. What is Delhi Annshri Yojana ?
On 12th December Sheila Dikshit, the Delhi Chief Minister, announced that her government will start DAY to provide Rs 600 per month to the bank accounts of 200,000 families which have been carefully selected in consultation with the various NGOs. The money will be given for food, although, as is the case with cash subsidy, one could use it for any purpose. Moreover, she clarified, this money is over and above all the existing food subsidies. Since the scheme has been functional, on paper, from the start of the financial year, the selected families will be given all the arrears too. Considering that the scheme so close to the Delhi assembly elections ( due next year) one could be forgiven to wonder if the move is more a political gimmick to win over marginal votes instead of resolving deep set problems. Anyway. Sheila Dikshit made the announcement while inaugurating another big reform called “Saral Money” which allows people to open new bank accounts with their neighbourhood Kirana shop owners. The Kirana shop owner would now use a micro-ATM to verify the identity of a person through his bio-metrics and then provide him with a bank account instantaneously. A Micro-ATM is like a Point of Sale (PoS) device that uses a phone connection and allows us to use pay using our debit or credit card. In this case, it also has a fingerprint reader attached to it. So you can type in your UID number and verify by giving your thumb impression. Then swipe your Saral Money Card and conduct the transaction. Of course, this would be possible only if you have a UID number but one cannot deny that it opens up the possibility to revolutionalise financial inclusion in India. Why Rukhsana Opposes Direct Cash Transfers?
On the face of it, DAY appeared to have some merit. There are a lot of needy people who fall between the cracks that exist in the multiple welfare schemes run by the government. One would assume that any scheme that targets such people would be welcomed across the board. However, that is not the case. On 13th December – the day after Dikshit’s announcement – campaigners for the right to food staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. There were around 400 odd people protesting the government’s move to direct cash transfers, instead of providing subsidized foodgrains. Many of them had also come from Delhi and openly opposed the DAY. One such person is 32 year old Rukhsana from the Trilokpuri area of Delhi. Rukhsana has 3 kids and is now separated from her husband. She works as a maid – washing dishes and cleaning clothes – in the nearby residential colony and earns around Rs 3500 per month – that is Rs 117 per day. However, she does not receive a single government subsidy. That means no cheap rice, wheat or sugar. It also means no subsidized LPG that many of the readers might be benefiting from. The problem is that she does not have a ration card and her numerous attempts to get one have failed. Between sweeping floors and taking care of her 3 kids she does not have enough time and resources to follow up on her application. Earlier in the year the local Gender Resource Centre (GRC) representative approached her and asked her to enroll in the DAY. The GRCs are run by the Delhi...
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