With increasing concern over the establishment of a centralised database such as the Unique Identification (UID) that may deny several people, especially in remote areas, the benefits of the cash transfer scheme, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh cautioned against a situation where Aadhaar could become ‘an instrument of exclusion.’

“Unfortunately, many of the beneficiaries of government programmes are outside the network of Aadhaar numbers. So you find that in a very large number of districts... the Aadhaar coverage is much, much below the critical threshold of 75 to 80 per cent. That really has to be seen,” Mr. Ramesh said at a conference on unconditional cash transfers (UCT) organised by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) on Friday.

Mr. Ramesh noted that there was a definite need to be ‘very, very careful’ to ensure that the ‘lack of an Aadhaar number does not become an alibi for exclusion of the beneficiary.”

“We do not want to be in a situation when Aadhaar becomes an instrument of exclusion. That if you do not have the Aadhaar number, you will not get the benefits. We do not want this situation and this situation is very, very probable. One should never discount the probability of a local-level functionary saying that since you do not have an Aadhaar number, you are not eligible,” he said.

The Minister suggested moving away from the Below Poverty Line (BPL)/Above Poverty Line (APL) criteria while deciding beneficiaries. Further, he encouraged reliance on post offices instead of banks in order to reach out to those in remote tribal areas, as well as widening the network of BCs to include self-help groups, Asha workers, and other such agencies. The country now has a cash transfer system where banks and post offices are used to pay old-age pensions to poor people.

In order to target beneficiaries better and speed up transfer of benefits to eligible individuals, Mr. Ramesh noted that the problem would be solved “only when we clean up the BPL list.”

“The answer to inclusion or exclusion is to move away from the BPL/APL issue. That is the direction in which we are headed. In the last years in two major government programmes, we have actually abandoned the BPL as a criterion for providing benefits,” he said

Currently, there are only three significant government programmes that are now BPL-centric, including food subsidy, Indira Awas Yojana and Pensions.

“Even out of these three, I have already moved proposals to make pension universal with exclusion criteria to get away from this BPL controversy. About Indira Awas Yojana, we have already announced that from next year, we would not go by the BPL criteria, but we will go by the houseless-ness data collected through the socio-economic caste census.”