Not going into any ideological or political debate (we did not even use the word “Aadhaar”), our aim was to examine the ground realities of the Kotkasim experiment. Jairam Ramesh and Varad Pande are not disputing our findings. Instead, they tell us that all will be well with the new Micro-ATM Network, Interoperable and Aadhaar-linked (MANIA). But the business correspondent (BC) in this new system is simply another route through which the benefits are supposed to reach the intended beneficiary. There is no guarantee that it would work better than a well-monitored public distribution system (PDS). In Ranchi, one BC told us bluntly: “Beimaan BC gadbadi karna chahe to kar hi sakta hai (a dishonest BC who wants to cheat can always cheat”). Ramesh and Pande themselves describe the traditional BC approach, projected as a “model” just a few years ago (and sometimes even today), as “discredited.”
Also, even after a year of experimentation, the implementation issues in Kotkasim have not been sorted out. The incentive structure for the PDS dealers has totally collapsed, questioning the sustainability of the system. Even then, the experiment was projected as a success. When the government is so reluctant to admit the numerous implementation challenges, and to submit itself to objective evaluation, it is difficult to share its touching faith in the new MANIA.
(Bharat Bhatti is doing his M.A. in development studies in Ambedkar University, Delhi. Madhulika Khanna is a researcher based in Delhi.)