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No beating about the bush.
If Centre’s objective is more transparency and fewer leakages in reaching out the benefits to the poor, planning should start from grass-root level and not otherwise
“The twin pillars for the success of the system of Direct Cash Transfers that we have envisioned are the Aadhaar platform and financial inclusion. If either of these pillars is weak, it would endanger the success of the initiative”—Dr Manmohan Singh on 19 December 2012
Aap ka paisa, aapke haath (your money in your hands) is the slogan coined by UPA II to promote the “Direct Cash Transfer” scheme which would be rolled out in phases, initially covering 43 districts (out of 51 announced earlier) from 1 January 2013 and the entire country (640 districts) by end 2013. Looks like the guidance given to Team UPA II is that whatever is to be done, should be done during 2013 and nothing should be left post-December 2013 as 2014 is going to be an uncertain year (read Lok Sabha Election year, if you believe in transparency).
In the second week of December, Jagdish Bhavsar, convener of BJP’s media cell had this to say about the party’s campaign strategy: “We have approached the election from three directions—through direct contact with people, through social media and for the first time ever a 3D campaign, and 30 vikas raths (chariots of progress) touring the state, telling people about the development activities of the Gujarat government.”
The above strategy did succeed is history. In this brief statement, there is a valuable lesson for anyone who is part of a project s/he is contemplating to launch. That lesson is about the backward and forward linkages necessary for any project to take off. The point is, any event management man, if consulted, would have briefed the UPA II about the essential linkages to be taken care of, before venturing into a project like this involving the present and future of millions of people and thousands of crores of taxpayer’s money. Such a consultation would have saved the embarrassment for the prime minister who generally reserves informed sermons for international conferences or closed-door conferences of elite economists or bureaucrats/bankers in making the following observation at a review meeting of progress made in the preparations for launching “Direct Cash/Benefit Transfer” programme:
“The twin pillars for the success of the system of Direct Cash Transfers that we have envisioned are the Aadhaar platform and financial inclusion. If either of these pillars is weak, it would endanger the success of the initiative.”
Anyone familiar with the happenings on the Aadhaar platform and those who have been following the chase after “Financial Inclusion” since 1970s (Lead Bank Scheme era) till date, will have the same apprehensions briefly coming out in the PM’s observation. Let us have a click on the keywords ‘AADHAAR’ and “Financial Inclusion” contained in the PM’s observation which could turn prophetic during the coming year.
In addition to its normal share of constraints including inadequate funding and non-availability of in-house expertise and resultant dependence on external agencies including banks and government departments, the lack of experience betrayed by Nandan Nilekani in dealing with the invisible hands of government has been making the progress of the UID Project relatively slow. First came the proposal for a drastic cut in budgetary allocations for the UID (from Rs7,500 crore to Rs4,000 crore, which meant only 10 crore UIDs will be possible initially against 60 crore planned) and now even the safety parameters assumed for producing UIDs are losing credibility. The problems in universal applicability of biometrics and the need for adequate funds for implementing the project to cover the 114 crore population cannot be assumed to have surfaced midway. As problem after problem surfaced, the common man knew for certain that the project was bound to take much more time than originally envisaged, even to cover the already ‘identified’ citizens. Even the government was not sure, as is evident from the fact that initially the project was not allowed to access the infrastructure and methodology in use by the census organisation for decades and fast-tract the process.
As late as in January 2012 a controversy between the ministry of home affairs (with the present FM as home minister then) and UIDAI boss Nandan Nilekani, surfaced as a letter from P Chidambaram to the prime minister about the methodology for identification of prospective Aadhaar card-holders. This was yet another case of conspicuous absence of leadership at the top in governance, costing the nation heavily in terms of resources. The much publicized and costly UID project which was entrusted to a successful entrepreneur from the private sector and mandated to be a panacea for all problems of poverty and deprivation the country is facing, has encountered serious problems even from the conceptual stage.
The hurry with which AADHAAR is being linked to the present Direct Cash (Benefit) Transfer Scheme is unwarranted. The pilot run has not reported impressive success. The fate of January 2013 launch of the Cash Transfer Scheme in select districts may give some indication as to the further efforts needed to make the project work effectively. Even a ‘satisfactory’ run of the project in these districts which have better linkages and literacy levels may not be indicative of the same performance in the remaining geographical area, if the scheme is pushed through within a year as is proposed now. The UID project may come through successfully in states like Kerala where the literacy rate is high and total financial inclusion is a reality. But that doesn’t help achieve the objective of the project, namely, “giving every Indian resident a unique ID number”. What is surprising is how Mr Nilekani agreed to start off the project with so many ifs and buts.
The government spokespersons while making statements about the Direct Cash Transfer, are giving an impression that this initiative is aimed at financial inclusion. Making the ‘beneficiaries’ borrow from banks/moneylenders against “subsidy/benefits receivable” or routing benefits through electronic media (ATMs, etc) cannot absolve banks from the responsibility of working towards financial inclusion. Financial inclusion is about bringing over 40% of India’s 25 crore households which still do not have any dealings with banks under the banking net.
Increasing the outreach of banks to cover the rural borrower with low credit needs has been one objective the nation has been pursuing religiously since 1950s (when State Bank of India was established), till date (now SBI has come out with the facility to open an account with Re1!). But the reality of financial inclusion is eluding. The banking system has done a commendable job in this direction through the network of rural branches, rural financial institutions (RFIs) including cooperatives, regional rural banks (RRBs) and rural branches of commercial banks. The focus shifted midway, somewhere during 1990s to urban and metropolitan lending.
Rise in rural deposits and burgeoning urban credit created imbalances and certain bypass routes were allowed for banks to achieve their priority lending targets. Banks started searching for other intermediaries like microfinance institutions (MFIs) for providing credit to small borrowers. MFIs, in some cases, borrowed from banks at low rates and disbursed credit to the ultimate borrower at up to three times or more the borrowing rates, in the same area where bank branches functioned. So long as banks source rural deposits, they should also shoulder the responsibility of providing credit in rural areas at reasonable interest rates.
In the effort to improve financial inclusion the existing infrastructure outside the commercial banks also should be put into use. Cooperatives have played a significant role not only in providing agricultural and rural credit, but in ensuring other linkages like inputs for farming and marketing avenues for products. As they were mainly operating in rural and semi-urban areas, it took longer time for this sector to access modern skills and technology. NABARD was established in 1982 with the specific mandate of supporting cooperatives and rural sector in general. Initial enthusiasm of NABARD faded away in the absence of legislative and administrative support from central and state governments and the institution had to satisfy itself by continuing to be an appendage of RBI doing some ‘safe’ business through established and credit-worthy cooperative banks and commercial banks.
Legislative support in adequate measure for revitalizing the cooperatives which comprises state and district central cooperative banks and more importantly about a lakh primary agricultural credit societies (PACSs) is not forthcoming from central and state governments. At a time when the government and the regulatory and supervisory institutions are struggling to make a breakthrough in financial inclusion and improvement in productivity, if appropriately utilized, the already available infrastructure and membership of cooperatives will make their work much simpler.
Out of one lakh PACSs only one-fifth situated in the four southern states and West Bengal are doing well. The remaining societies will need financial and managerial support for rehabilitation. Still, if a political will can be evolved, reviving the cooperatives with technological, financial and administrative support will give a boost to the efforts for financial inclusion.
Change of course
If there is a will, there is a way. Reportedly, the government has handed over the electoral rolls in respective areas to the public sector banks operating in the districts selected for launch of Cash Transfer from 1 January 2013 with instructions to ensure that every household in these districts must have at least one bank account. Bank employees may not risk their jobs by not adhering to the ‘instructions’ from North Block. We can only wonder why electoral rolls and not AADHAAR numbers were being used. Someone says, when everything is with Elections 2014 in view, why not start with electoral rolls in the first place!
Even at this late hour, a change of course is possible. If Centre’s objective is more transparency and fewer leakages in reaching out the benefits to the poor, planning should start from grass-root level. The local bodies, revenue officials from the villages upwards, branches/offices of banks, cooperatives, NBFCs, social organisations operating in the respective areas should be taken on board while identifying the beneficiaries and disbursal of benefits. This programme is different from providing telephone/mobile connections or reaching out with medicine for polio. Banking is a two-way relationship with several changing dimensions. ATMs and hand-machines with banking correspondents cannot substitute for personal relationship a banker cultivates with his clientele over time.
Let us wish some miracle happens and the UPA II changes its approach in 2013 so that scraping through the year becomes easier for it and the country and when UPA III emerges in 2014 in some other combination the struggle to survive will be smoother!
(MG Warrier is a freelancer based in Thiruvananthapuram.)
According to Asaram Bapu, the 23-year old victim in the Delhi gang-rape case could have called the cuplrits as brothers and begged before them to stop!
Self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu has stirred a major controversy by saying that 23-old girl, victim of the brutal sexual assault last month, is also responsible for the rape.
According to media reports, the godman has been quoted as saying, “Can one hand clap? I don't think so. Only five or six people are not the culprits. The victim daughter is as guilty as her rapists... She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop... This could have saved her dignity and life.”
Asaram's remarks on the gangrape of the 23-year-old girl sparked condemnation across the political spectrum and from women's bodies today with the BJP saying it was "regrettable, deeply disturbing and painful".
Addressing his followers recently, Asaram said that when the girl encountered six drunk men "she should have taken God's name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said I consider you as my brother and should have said to the other two 'Brother I am helpless, you are my brother, my religious brother.'
She should have taken God's name and held their hands and feet...then the misconduct wouldn't have happened."
He also went on to say, "Galti ek taraf se nahi hoti hai (mistake is not committed from one side)." The girl was gangraped on the night of 16th December in a moving bus and died nearly a fortnight later at a Singapore hospital.
"The accused were drunk. If the girl had chanted hymns to Goddess Saraswati and to Guru Diksha then she wouldn't have entered the bus...," he added.
BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad said Asaram is a religious guru and that the country looks upto him. "His statement is regrettable, deeply disturbing and painful," he said.
"For him to make the statement in relation to a crime which has shocked the conscience of the country is not only unfortunate but deeply regrettable," he added.
An aide to Asaram sought to downplay the controversy over the remarks. Neelam Dubey said the remarks were made at a religious discourse in Delhi in the context of how one should invoke God's name to avoid incidents like crimes against women. Some reports said the event was held in Rajasthan.
Dubey said Asaram was trying ta drive home the point that incidents like the gangrape of the girl could have been avoided by reciting mantras, by reciting names of Gods. "If she(victim) would have taken God's name or recited a mantra God inside her might have suggested her to how to avoid such crimes," she said, seeking to explain Asaram's remarks.
"He was giving that idea to his devotees. He was citing the gangrape incident to say one should use commonsense to avoid such incidents," she added.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said religious leaders should give serious thought before they speak out.
Asaram also said that he is not in favour of harsher punishment for offenders in the rape case. He said, “We have often seen such laws are made to be utilised in wrong way... Dowry harassment law is the biggest example.”
Asaram’s remark comes at a time when the entire country is mourning the death of the 23-year-old girl who died in a Singapore hospital 13 days later after the heinous crime.
But Asaram Bapu has always been a controversial figure. There is an enquiry going on about the deaths of two boys at his Ahmedabad ashram, while last month a father of a 21-year-old student has lodged a police complaint accusing Asaram's Jabalpur ashram of deliberately withholding information about his missing son's whereabouts.
On 28th December, the Gujarat government extended by three months the term of Justice (retd) DK Trivedi Commission of Inquiry, which is probing the death of two boys at spiritual leader Asaram Bapu's ashram in Ahmedabad in 2008, reports PTI.
This is the sixth time the term has been extended.
The Commission was set up to probe the mysterious death of two children, whose bodies were found on the Sabarmati riverbed on 5 July 2008 after they went missing on 3rd July.
Dipesh Vaghela and Abhishek Vaghela, cousins, were studying at Ashram's Gurukul (residential school) at Motera. The mysterious deaths caused a considerable uproar, with parents levelling allegations of “black magic” against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai.
The CID is also conducting an investigation. Seven disciples of Asaram Bapu were arrested in the case, now they are on bail.
Asaram appeared before the Commission for deposition on 1st December after much dithering. He refuted the allegations and said it was a conspiracy to malign the Ashram and Hinduism. His son Narayan Sai also deposed, denying any knowledge of “black magic”.
Last month, Naresh Patel, said his son, Rishi, has been missing for over a month and was last seen at Asaram Bapu’s ashram in Jabalpur four months ago. The college student had taken diksha from Bapu last year and had been a frequent visitor to the ashram and ran errands for its manager.
The mismanagement of the mega blocks on the suburban railway network since last Sunday is causing untold pressure on Mumbai's entire transport system. If it is not handled in time, it may lead to another outburst of public protest by commuters whose patience is stretched thin by the overcrowded, creaking and unsafe railway system
In the past few days, a few lakh Mumbaikars who commute to work and back by the Central Railway, are facing delays, suffocating overload of already crowded local trains, injuries and even death. We learn that the direct reason for this unprecedented chaos is mismanagement and bungling by railway officials last Sunday, when the commuter line was blocked for repairs. The question is who is responsible for the mess and the untold misery to commuters? And at what point will their patience snap?
On Thursday, some angry passengers manhandled a station master at Asangaon station, on the outskirts of Mumbai. On Friday, former BJP MP Kirit Somiaya met top railway officials seeking to know what was wrong. And like in Delhi, the Congress party which rules Maharashtra, has been quiet and unconcerned.
It all began with two the mega blocks (when trains are halted in segments for repair and maintenance work, usually on major holidays) announced by the Central Railway on 29th and 31st December. The duration of these blocks were 12 and 16 hours, respectively. The mega blocks were announced to remodel Thane yard for allowing faster train movement, commissioning of route-relay inter locking system to improve signalling and test-charging of the alternate current (AC) power system. Given the role of the suburban railway network as Mumbai’s lifeline, these blocks are planned months in advance and the work is done with clockwork efficiency to a strict time schedule. But this time, it has meant long delays, frayed nerves and suffocating crowds. The desperation to cling on to the train has led to three tragedies, including that of a young 23-year old Deepesh Kadam and 35-year old Ashok Shelar who slipped. The third victim is yet to be identified.
Activist Samir Zaveri, who has been waging a long and tireless battle for safer rail travel has written to the government asking for action against senior railway officials for the mismanagement which has led to several deaths. He says that some preventive action by the railways in response to passenger warnings would have prevented the deaths that occurred on 31st December.
So far overcrowding in suburban locals on the Central Railway line due to the mega block and unfinished work have claimed three lives in three separate incidents while five people were injured after falling off from the trains, packed beyond their capacity.
According to advocate Bapoo Malcolm, such deaths amount to homicide without premeditated intent to kill, damages without mens rea (Latin for guilty mind) and someone has to pay. “There is need to consider criminal action against erring officials including the railway minister for disability/carelessness to discharge their functions and duties. Whether it is voluntarily done or out of a casual approach or sheer negligence, it amounts to a breach of duty, something that they are solemnly bound to do. They have taken oaths, haven’t they?” he said.
According to sources, there was no proper planning done to carry out the work. Contractors who were supposed to lay cables before the mega blocks did not finish the job. This was the main reason why the construction department could not complete laying crossovers in the stipulated time.
We also hear that 12 out of the 41 new signals have been installed differently and motormen are forced to reduce speed between Thane and Mulund stations because they are unfamiliar with the location of these signals. This has led to the bunching of trains and is causing delays.
Passengers are also irked by the lack of communication. Since the start of mega block on 29th December, the Central Railway failed to keep passengers informed through regular announcements at all stations and also using media.
The uncaring attitude is apparent in any visit to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. A board near the gate towards reservation office always claim that all local trains are running on schedule, more than 95% of the time. But just any commuter will tell you that 10-15 minutes delays are now routine. Yet, the Railways claim 95% of its suburban trains are running on time.
Media reports have quoted Chetan Bakshi, Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS), who visited the site near Thane, as saying that old crossovers should have been done away with since new ones have been laid. According to the reports, Subodh Jain, general manager, of Central Railway is mulling to initiate an inquiry for taking action against erring officials after completion of the work at Thane.
Last year, Dinesh Trivedi, former railway minister, while speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation, had said that the entire railway system is in mess and there is a urgent need to modernize it so that people can travel safely with some dignity, unlike what every commuter, especially on Mumbai local trains experience every day. “There are no maintenance contracts given by the Railways and they are carrying out even the basic repairs on ad-hoc basis,” he had said.
Railway officials, who have retired from top posts, feel that the helpless rail officials are mere villains of circumstance. “It is creaking infrastructure that is being loaded 300% of its capacity and operating and maintenance engineers really struggle 24/7 with nightmares of a serious accident any time. They (rail officials) can do nothing better. The only option is limit passengers entering stations to match capacity by harsh barricading measures,” says B Rajaram, former managing director of Konkan Railway.
Moneylife Foundation has also called for urgent corrective action by the railways and to share information with the public. A meeting of several railway associations is scheduled to be held at the Moneylife Foundation at 3pm on Saturday. Those who feel strongly about these issues may like to attend the meeting. See box for details or calls 49205000 or email us at [email protected]