Academic future more certain with nick-of-time cash relief

Written by Rajat Arora | Updated: Jan 20 2013, 06:47am hrs
Though Aadhaar coverage low, work on at war footing for enrollment

A district some 160 km south of Delhi has become a laboratory of independent Indias most ambitious plan of providing direct cash subsidies to beneficiaries. In December 2011, Alwar in Rajasthan became the first district where the direct benefits transfer scheme in kerosene was rolled out as a pilot project. After a year of successful implementation, on January 1, Alwar was among the 20 districts where Aadhaar-enabled direct benefits transfer scheme was launched.

Just a fortnight before the launch, finance minister P Chidambaram visited the district along with the area MP Jitendra Singh. The district plans to roll out 15 centrally-sponsored schemes (CSSs) under direct cash transfers through Aadhaar. Of the 15 central schemes that will be rolled out in Alwar, 13 are scholarship schemes of several ministries, Alwars additional district collector Deepak Nandi told FE.

The district administration had a massive task of giving out Aadhaar cards to around 80,000 students who would receive the direct cash benefits from January 1 under the post-matric scholarship scheme for OBC students in phase I. The work started at the district headquarters at war level and within ten days, Aadhaar cards were generated and handed over to school students. And while all could not get the actual cards, they were given computer-generated copies of their cards. Nowhere in the country have Aadhaar cards been doled out at such a pace, Nandi added.

The district administration has identified 84,000 eligible beneficiaries for the first set of schemes. With regard to Aadhaar cards, eight lakh people have already been covered, which means 22% of the population.

Gharsha Kumari, a class X student of SMD Government School, was among the first students to get the cash transfer of R1,000. Gharsha, the only child in her family who goes to school, says she will save the money and use it for higher education. The money has come as a huge relief for Gharsha, whose father, a daily wager, was planning to discontinue her studies due to their poor financial condition.

After I got the money, my father wants me to study further. He has also bought me a cycle to go to school. I wish to study science after class X, she says. There are several like Gharsha who have either got the scholarship amount in their bank accounts or are expected to get it in a few days.

The district administration also ensured that these beneficiaries get their bank accounts opened and Aadhaar card numbers on time. We have got Aadhaar cards for all students who fall under various categories of scholarships. Their parents initially werent very cooperative, but when we told them about the benefits, they agreed readily, says district education officer Kamlesh Sharma.

The scholarships were often delayed before the DBT scheme was launched as transferring money was a complex procedure where the school principal was responsible for disbursing the money which he got from the district disbursal officer. After the direct cash transfer scheme came into effect, the district disbursal officer directly transfers funds into the accounts of students. Earlier, there used to be a delay of three-four months in transferring scholarship money as it was a manual process, says Hem Sharma, principal, SMD Government School.

The administration is also preparing to roll out another scheme, Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), through direct cash transfers.

Surinder Singh, district programme officer of the health department, has busy months ahead as 4,000 pregnant womenthe number given by anganwadi and Asha (accredited social health activists) workersin the district are due to deliver in the next three months. Singh has to make sure that these women have Aadhaar cards and bank accounts so they can get direct benefits of JSY. Under the scheme, rural women are given R1,400 and urban women R1,000 as soon as they deliver in a government hospital.

We have to make sure that the pregnant women have Aadhaar cards and bank accounts for smooth cash transfers to their accounts. However, the number of pregnant women that we get from our ground workers has also to be verified and updated, Singh says.

Local officials are confident of the benefits of the direct cash transfer system. The Alwar district administration claims that direct cash transfer scheme for kerosene, which was started as a pilot for Kotkasim, a block of 24 villages, has shown significant results and eliminated any leaks in kerosene subsidies. We are sure that direct cash transfer would be as efficient for other central and state schemes as well, Nandi says.