The case for taking the DBT route for ration cardholders

Tamil Nadu was among the first few States to adopt the idea of direct benefit transfer

Published - March 25, 2020 11:23 pm IST - CHENNAI

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/07/2018: PDS rice being sold to non-card holders illegally when several card holders queue up to receive the essential commodities at Sachidanandam Street, Kosapet in Chennai on July 07, 2018. 
Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/07/2018: PDS rice being sold to non-card holders illegally when several card holders queue up to receive the essential commodities at Sachidanandam Street, Kosapet in Chennai on July 07, 2018. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

With the State government having decided to provide cash support of ₹1,000 to all ration cardholders as part of measures to mitigate the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question then arises as to why the Civil Supplies authorities are not transferring the cash directly to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts.

As in the past, the authorities are planning to distribute the amount to beneficiaries on designated days after issuing tokens to them. But this may be at odds with the concept of social distancing, which is being encouraged and implemented to curb the spread of the disease.

Tamil Nadu was perhaps among the first few States to adopt the concept of direct benefit transfer (DBT) through bank accounts. For the last five to six years, it has been using DBT in respect of students’ scholarships, maternity benefits and social security pensions.

Observers of the State’s demographic profile point out that there should not be any major difficulty for the authorities in adopting DBT with respect to public distribution system (PDS) beneficiaries. Of the around 6.72 crore beneficiaries, Aadhaar-linking has been done for 6.68 crore, according to the official PDS website https://www.tnpds.gov.in/ . Besides, at least a majority of the ration cardholders should either be Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) account holders or recipients of subsidy on cooking gas cylinders. In both cases, the account holders are getting financial assistance from government agencies through their bank accounts. There are around 1.05 crore PMJDY accounts in the State.

Moreover, once the Civil Supplies Department decides to collect the details of the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, it can do so either through the PDS mobile app or the website. For the rest, who will account for a negligible number of beneficiaries, the distribution of cash directly through PDS outlets could be considered. But this should be a last resort, observers say.

A senior official in the State government says the DBT option is being examined. What needs to be ascertained is the number of bank accounts that have been linked to the database of PDS beneficiaries. An official of the Civil Supplies Department says the matter needs to be elaborately discussed at different levels.

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