As the government begins the second phase of rollout of Direct Benefits Transfer in 78 districts from July 1,it would do well to look back at the rather shaky experience of the schemes implementation in the past six months,and whether it is in fact prepared to bring in more areas under the schemes ambit.
The ambitious plan,that aims at eliminating middlemen and ensuring money reaches beneficiaries directly,has been plagued by multiple teething and operational issues. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself acknowledged the problems while Finance Minister P Chidambaram recently sounded a note of caution even while recognising the enthusiasm for the scheme as a whole.
Recent meetings of stakeholders,including those convened by the Planning Commission,have reflected a range of concerns. To begin with,there seems to be significant confusion about the biometric enrollment of beneficiaries an element that is perhaps at the heart of the schemes implementation. District collectors seem unsure of who should be bringing beneficiaries to enrollment centres and beneficiaries themselves may not be incentivised enough to enroll. As a result,enrollment figures are far from satisfactory in several districts.
Further,seeding with Aadhar numbers continues to remain an area of concern with huge gaps being reported between seeding and payments through an Aadhar-based system. There is also the problem of some banks being unwilling to open no-frills accounts,not to talk of areas that dont have banking facilities. The concept of having the bank at your doorstep through a business correspondent which was an integral part of the DBT scheme has not been implemented effectively.
The Planning Commission has admitted that these issues need to be looked into.
While these may well be initial hiccups,the question is whether the government should be rushing into expanding the scope of the scheme. The hurry appears inspired by the general election,where the Congress hopes to use it as its big ticket reform card.
Given that the idea behind the DBT is sincere,the government may be doing more of a disservice to the scheme in this haste.
Ruhi is a special correspondent based in Delhi