Direct cash transfers: The scheme that blocked kerosene

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SummaryThe pilot for cash transfer was launched in Kotkasim in December 2011.

A frail Gori Sahaab, 90, instructs his son to pour mustard oil into a tiny diya in his one-room house. He once used a kerosene lamp but has stopped buying that fuel. His son says he is a “victim” of the direct cash/benefits transfer scheme.

Gori is one of many villagers in Kotkasim in Rajasthan’s Alwar district who have not received their due under the cash subsidy scheme for kerosense.

The pilot for cash transfer was launched in Kotkasim in December 2011. The Centre went on to launch the DBT scheme in 43 districts across the country this January 1, and expanded the rollout to 121 districts by July 1.

In Rajasthan, the scheme was launched in three districts in the first phase — Alwar, Ajmer and Udaipur. DBT is mostly being used for scholarships and maternity benefits but the government recently launched cash transfers for kerosene in some pilot blocks in the latter two districts, despite having been unable to remove glitches in Alwar.

The government feels the “visibility” of DBT is maximum where cash subsidy is involved, as the minutes of a recent high-level meeting at the national level on DBT mention. However, far from being an electoral game-changer as promoted by the Congress with its slogan “Aapka Paisa Aapke Haath”, the scheme has made people more angry with the Centre than ever for disrupting the existing system.

In Kotkasim, villagers have replaced kerosene with other fuel substitutes. While earlier consumers could buy up to 3 litres per ration card from fair-price shops at subsidy, under Direct Cash Transfer, they have to buy at the prevailing market rate and the difference between the market and subsidised rates is supposed to be transferred to their accounts in advance, starting with a three-month advance. Villagers say they get their subsidy months after purchasing kerosene, and most have been unable to organise enough money to buy the fuel at the full market price. Many others don’t even have bank accounts.

To withdraw the subsidy, the account holder has to be physically present, making it nearly impossible for the disabled living kilometres from banks. "I can barely walk around in the village, how do I go all the way to the bank, spending Rs 100? The previous system was so much more convenient,” says Santara Devi, 75.

The last entries for cash subsidy on the passbooks of Gori Sahaab, Santara Devi, Ram Chand and several others in Gunsar village are on 26.04.2012, when each received Rs 263. Since then, either the money has not come in or they have not been able to go to the bank.

The business correspondent model to facilitate last-mile delivery is yet to see the light of day. This, in a block where the scheme has now had a 22-month run.

“Not one person in this village has got money in advance,” says Sooraj Bhan, owner of a fair-price shop and zilla head, PDS, in Alwar. “They first buy kerosene, then I make an entry, which I forward to the district supply officer, after which money is supposed to be transferred. Kerosene sales have dropped drastically. The Congress will not gain even one per cent votes with this scheme.”

DSO R C Meena insists the scheme is being implemented “well”. He says there were some problems with bank accounts that caused delays, but these have now been “sorted out”.

Under Aadhar, while enrolment rates are high, the numbers are yet to be seeded with bank accounts, a prerequisite for cash transfer. The scheme in Kotkasim is not being implemented on the basis of Aadhar.

‘Scheme? What scheme?’

In Ajmer, the slogan “Aapka Paisa Aapke Haath” has no resonance. “I have not heard of this scheme. We all have Aadhar numbers because we were told we won’t get anything if we don’t. But how that makes any difference, we don’t understand,” says Ram Jeevan of Tilonia village, also the ‘ward head’.

Shama Devi of Harmara village is equally puzzled. “I get pension in cash. That is convenient. But the government hasn’t told us anything,” she says, as she displays her new Aadhar card.

“See, we know of the scheme because we work in the social sector,” says Naurat Mal, who works with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. “An ordinary villager has no clue. Not a single government official or politician has come to explain the scheme or how it would make a difference. Even if we try to explain, people don’t get the difference. They still get pension in hand or by cheque. Scholarships may be coming directly into accounts but people hardly care about it. Here, Aadhar is all people have heard about, but only as a mandatory identity proof. Unlike MGNREGA, which was on the lips of every villager, DBT is something not everyone knows about.”

In Arahi, where cash subsidy for kerosene has just been launched, there is absolute confusion. Some say they don’t even have bank accounts, some say they are still buying at subsidised rates while others say they had to buy at full market rates but have not received any cash.

“We make it a point to transfer the subsidy in advance of the consumer week when they can go buy kerosene. A three-month advance is transferred initially,” says DSO Sunita Daga. She admits, however, that the scheme has so far been difficult to implement. “We did try to bring MGNREGA under it but it was a problem since most people have post office accounts which are not in the core banking system,” she says.

Another problem has been the delay in receiving Aadhar numbers. “I completed all the formalities nine months ago but am still waiting for my Aadhar card,” says Ram Biwas of Arahi Panchayat Samiti.

“Nobody seems interested. It was dropped like a hot potato once the government realised how complex it was and what a mess had been created. No political pressure is put on the administration to implement it and no political leader really shows interest. Our MP has not ever asked about implementation. It will have a zero impact in the coming elections,” says an Ajmer district official who wishes not to be identified.

The opposition, meanwhile, has found an issue to attack the Congress government on. “The central government is not putting in enough funds and the state government has no interest in implementing it. Every day I have people from my constituency come to me with complaints. I even raised it in the Vidhan Sabha. This has turned out to be a problem rather than solved anything,” says Ramhet Yadav of the BJP, MLA of Kishangarhbas in Alwar. Kotkasim falls under his constituency.

Villagers, irrespective of affiliation, are talking about the Ashok Gehlot government’s latest sops — universalised and restructured pension, free medicines and check-ups in government hospitals, and Rs 2,100 for each household that completes 100 days under MGNREGA. They are also talking about Narendra Modi and his recent rallies. Few have anything to say about DBT. And those who do have nothing positive to say.

“Aapka Paisa Aapke Haath. What sort of a scheme is this?” says Bela Devi of Tilonia village. “Who has launched it? What does it mean? Where was the money going until now? My ration card needs to be updated. Even something as basic as that is not happening smoothly. Where is the space for some new scheme?”

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