New Delhi: To facilitate the faster spread of benefits from direct cash transfers, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is considering a proposal to extend it to beneficiaries in states, coincidentally also the most populous states in the country, which so far have been excluded from the coverage of the programme to arm residents with a unique identity, or Aadhaar.
Disclosing this, a person familiar with the development who did not want to be identified also clarified that the UPA will not be weeding out anyone from the list of existing beneficiaries under the 26 schemes selected for the first phase of Aadhaar-based cash transfers that were originally scheduled to roll out on 1 January in select districts.
In these states, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the National Population Register (NPR) under the Census of India had been mandated to collect biometrics. Aadhaar is issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), headed by Nandan Nilekani.
The proposal is expected to cost the exchequer an additional Rs.6,000 crore and is pending before the cabinet committee on UID headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The move to extend the Aadhaar programme could potentially set it in conflict with the NPR. The two agencies which have had a long stand-off over who will collect biometrics for the entire population of the country had struck a truce a year ago. Under a January 2012 deal, the UIDAI and the NPR were to share each other’s data so duplication could be avoided. Of India’s 28 states and 7 Union territories, 18 states and Union territories were to be covered by UIDAI and the rest by NPR.
This compromise was short- lived as UIDAI refused to accept the NPR data (due to a change in the latter’s enrolment process) and objected to its camps in states. On 7 June, a new compromise was reached where the cabinet directed UIDAI to accept NPR data, but asked the home ministry to set up NPR camps in states only after UIDAI finished a “majority” of its work. Minutes of the meeting reviewed by Mint didn’t clarify on what exactly was meant by “majority”.
“Because of these directives, our work has been delayed by at least one year. If we are not allowed to set up camps, how will we collect biometrics and finish on time? Earlier, we were supposed to finish biometrics collection by June 2013. Now it will not happen. If government wants to hand over everything to UIDAI, we will abide by the directions. As of now they have not sought our comments on a new proposal, if there is any. We have been asked to continue our work as per the statutory requirement,” said an NPR official who requested anonymity.
The rural development ministry has now proposed that the government’s main welfare programmes start UID or Aadhaar enrolment of beneficiaries to fast-track cash transfers in those states where NPR has been mandated to collect biometrics, according to government officials familiar with the proposal.
The cash-transfer programme is being touted by the UPA as a policy gamechanger and also one that would endear itself to voters and consequently make it the frontrunner in the 2014 general election.
“NPR has not been able to move fast enough and there is a lot of pressure to roll out cash transfers,” one of the government officials said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
According to statistics on the Census India portal, NPR has recorded the data of 1.05 billion people, and collected the biometrics of 90.3 million. It puts Aadhaar numbers generated at 25.3 million. On the other hand, UIDAI said it had issued 242.5 million Aadhaar numbers as of 31 December.
The cabinet committee on UID, which includes finance minister P. Chidambaram and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, will take a decision on the proposal, said the official quoted above.
“There should be not be much duplication as even if UID collects biometrics in the NPR states, the latter can use the same data and it won’t have to collect biometrics again,” this person said.
The UPA had initially planned to roll out cash transfers in 43 districts across 34 schemes such as pensions and scholarships from 1 January and in the 18 states where UID will enrol residents from April 2013. Cash transfers are slated to go nationwide by April 2014. However, on Monday, the government said that the initial plan was being partially rolled back and now cash transfers will take place for 26 schemes in 20 districts from Tuesday; it will be rolled out in another 11 districts from 1 February and in a further 12 districts from 1 March.
A second government official said the initial phase of the cash transfer programme will target “existing beneficiaries”. There will be no “weeding out” of ineligible beneficiaries in this phase, he said. Fakes and duplicates will be automatically identified and removed when the state databases are matched with UID numbers, said the first official.
Only after the socio-economic and caste census (SECC) is complete will the beneficiary list be updated to remove those not eligible under a particular scheme and include those left out. SECC has surveyed all rural households in the country to collect a number of socio-economic indicators such as literacy, housing, assets and caste.
“Right now, we are not looking at the eligibility question. The issue of inclusion/exclusion will be sorted out after the SECC is finalized and we know who are people who are below the poverty line, etc,” the first official said.
A committee headed by Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen will analyse the SECC data and determine the beneficiaries of various rural development programmes, Mint reported 29 December.
The committee is expected to submit its report by 31 March. Sen said last week that 90% of the SECC data was available although it would take more time for all the information to be in place. “The committee will start working with the data already available,” he had said.
On the sidelines of a press briefing on Monday, Chidambaram also said, “So we are not touching the beneficiary list...whatever list is available with the department...to whom they are giving money or subsidy under the present system...we are taking that list, digitizing it, opening bank accounts and ensuing that money goes to the bank.”
He added that the those lists are revised every year by the ministry or the department concerned.
The benefits of better-targeted subsidies will not immediately impact government finances as petroleum and food subsidies, which contribute a significant chunk, are not included in the initial plan, said D.K. Joshi, chief economist of ratings company Crisil Ltd.
“The benefits will not be there immediately but a successful platform will create opportunities for a greater impact later on,” Joshi said.
Sahil Makkar contributed to the story.