Accusing the government of “forcing” people to enrol for an Aadhaar number, social activist and National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy says the performance of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme in the first two months has been “dismal,” resulting in “exclusion” of poor beneficiaries.
Ms. Roy, a vociferous opponent of linking Aadhaar with welfare delivery, expressed her concerns at a meeting earlier this week of the Sonia Gandhi-headed NAC, where Unique Identification Authority of India Chairman Nandan Nilekani made a presentation on the scheme.
On Friday, she issued a more detailed response to Mr. Nilekani, slamming as “abject failure” the scheme to directly transfer cash benefits using an Aadhaar-based payment network.
The DBT scheme was rolled out at the beginning of the year, using the Aadhaar database and authentication system to facilitate transfer of scholarships, pensions and welfare payments directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries.
Ms. Roy was scathing about the initiative’s early track record. “Despite the effort to depict it as a game-changer and deployment of huge resources and government machinery, the success rate has been dismal and pathetic,” she said. “Two months after the rollout in 20 pilot districts, the total amount of money transferred nationally has been just Rs. 5.5 crore through the Aadhaar based payment network.”
For example, out of 20,000 potential beneficiaries in Ajmer district, only 220 actually received cash in a bank through the scheme, she said. As none of these recipients actually used the Aadhaar’s much-vaunted biometric authentication system, it had seen “zero success” so far, Ms. Roy said.
The new scheme just added another layer of complicated procedures without any actual advantage to the beneficiary, she claimed. Also, the linking of Aadhaar with social sector payments made UID enrolment de facto compulsory despite Mr. Nilekani’s claims that it was voluntary, she said.
Once the scale of rollout was expanded, the scheme would call for deployment of a million middlemen — to be called banking correspondents — each equipped with micro-ATMs to authenticate biometrics and dispense cash. Ms. Roy warned that lack of accountability, connectivity and technical problems would doom the concept.
“The net result is exclusion, making access to entitlements for the poor that much more difficult, and in certain cases, excluding them altogether,” said the influential NAC member. “Ironically, this abject failure is being described as a ‘game-changer’ and a ‘magic wand.’ I strongly feel that two months into the rollout process, the government needs to stop and take a step back. It needs to address the various issues and concerns which have arisen and carry out further pilot studies in different regions.”