The UPA government launched its so-called game changer direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme in January 2013 to cover all the social sector schemes and also payment of subsidies in the petroleum, food and fertiliser sectors. After two and a half years, the success in DBT is limited to the petroleum sector and that too mainly in the LPG distribution, thanks to the public sector oil companies.
The change in the government at the Centre in May last year has been helpful here to the extent that the scheme which has Aadhaar-based identification as one of the major components, has not been disbanded, but in terms of success on the ground in its implementation, the DBT is still languishing. While in food (covering a subsidy bill of about Rs 1.25 lakh crore), there is no clarity as yet whether DBT would be implemented and in which form; in fertiliser (about Rs 1 lakh crore), the government is still finding it difficult to run a pilot scheme.
Going by the Standing Committee on fertiliser and chemicals report submitted last week in Parliament, there is uncertainty whether the government would be doing it or not. The department of fertiliser and chemicals has informed the panel that it is facing problems in implementing mFMS which capture the retailer sales of fertilisers to ‘buyer’ and which was rolled out in 6 districts in pilot stage.
So, the next stage of implementation has been put on hold as ‘there are problems in targeting, determining entitlements and preparing beneficiary databases’.
The department is currently examining the feasibility and practicality of tracing each bag of fertiliser by studying the prevailing practice in case of other commodities. It has informed the committee that if found practical and implementable, steps will be taken to introduce a similar mechanism in fertiliser.
Clearly, the fate of DBT in fertiliser is hanging in the balance. The Parliamentary panel’s observation is self-explanatory: “….the Department is also exploring possibilities for rolling out the Pilot project for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of Fertiliser Subsidy on the various districts of India. In view of the foregoing, the Committee hope and trust that the Department would make earnest efforts to examine the feasibility and practicality of tracing each bag of fertiliser expeditiously as well as exploring the possibilities for rolling out the pilot project for Direct Benefit Transfer of fertiliser subsidy in the two districts in Odisha”.
Undoubtedly, the NDA government’s real challenge is to move out of the politics of farmers and poor and success of DBT largely depends on that.