Universal basic income: How Odisha’s KALIA took off in less than 6 weeks

Under the scheme, landless beneficiaries are offered several livelihood opportunities like poultry, fishery, mushroom cultivation and bee-keeping, and each beneficiary must choose the activity they wish to pursue.

Universal basic income: How Odisha’s KALIA took off in less than 6 weeks
Universal basic income: How Odisha's KALIA took off in less than 6 weeks

By Shweta Saini & Ankur Bansal

On February 15, Odisha government, in a historic move, made an unconditional cash payment of `5,000 to its 3.2 lakh agricultural landless labour families. It was the first time in the recent history of the country an unconditional cash transfer was made to such numbers of the landless agri-workforce in any state. Payment was made under Odisha’s Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme. This is the second installment made under KALIA. The first was made to 1.2 million small and marginal farmers (landowners) of the state who received `5,000 on January 25, 2019.

As per Census 2011, India has a total workforce of 482 million, out of which 263 million (about 55%) are employed in agriculture. More than half of these agri-workers, i.e., about 144 million, work as agricultural labourers, who do not own land (or own marginal pieces of land that are not enough for their sustenance) and work on someone else’s land in return for wages paid in cash or kind. Just like the small and marginal farmers (SMF) of the country, this segment of the landless suffer most during any agrarian crisis. Nearly all government programmes/schemes that aim to alleviate distress in the sector, including the Central government’s recently announced direct-income-transfer (DIT) scheme, PM-KISAN, targets landowners, ones with land records. Others, including sharecroppers and the landless, are left out, mostly at the mercy of inefficiently implemented schemes like MGNREGA for support.

By making an unconditional cash transfer to its landless, Odisha has opened new avenues of opportunity to support India’s most vulnerable sections. Odisha’s KALIA scheme has three components that would benefit about 4.5 million agricultural households of the state. This payment of `5,000 to its landless is viewed to provide them with livelihood support. In one year, one million such households are to each receive `12,500 directly into their bank accounts. Payment is to go in three installments—`5,000 (transferred on February 15, 2019), a second installment of `3,000 and a final installment of `4,500—both of which are to be transferred within six months from now. As per KALIA guidelines, while the first installment is unconditional, the subsequent two ones are conditional.

Under the scheme, landless beneficiaries are offered several livelihood opportunities like poultry, fishery, mushroom cultivation and bee-keeping, and each beneficiary must choose the activity they wish to pursue. Based on their choices, the state government will organise trainings to hand-hold them through the activity. Beneficiaries are to use the first installment amount to create assets and the subsequent installments are conditional upon the creation of these assets. For FY19, there are three DIT schemes being rolled out in the country—Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu Scheme (RBS), Odisha’s KALIA and PM Modi’s PM-KISAN. By making DIT independent of landholding size, targeting small and marginal landowners and landless agri-workers and by connecting the transfer to livelihood opportunities, KALIA emerges the best of the lot.

But how did a state that did not have updated records of its agri-workers identify them and transfer money to about 2 million beneficiaries? Like many states in the country, Odisha did not have a comprehensive database of citizens to identify eligible beneficiaries. However, on a mission-mode, Odisha state leadership created a unified database of eligible beneficiaries under different components of KALIA in less than six weeks. Eligible beneficiaries were identified through a strategy of systemic integration, unification and verification of databases by using various agriculture and non-agriculture departments’ databases, like DBT (seed, fertiliser, etc), paddy procurement, crop insurance (PMFBY), etc., from the agriculture department and SECC, ration cards, voter IDs, etc., from other state non-agriculture databases.

A team of governance consultants, data scientists and technocrats, along with various government officials designed algorithms to scan through millions of beneficiaries across multiple systems to identify eligible individuals. The algorithm was able to integrate, unify and verify eligible beneficiaries across databases to remove duplicity and ensure almost no false beneficiary inclusion and exclusion of true beneficiaries. An on-ground survey was undertaken in parallel to verify the list through green- and red-boxes installed at the gram panchayat level. Within two weeks, more than 65 lakh forms were filled, verified and digitised in a mission mode across the state. This exercise was personally monitored by the CM of Odisha and senior bureaucrats of the state.

Ineligible beneficiaries were excluded, government employees were identified using state government’s HRMS, and landless households, who owned assets like refrigerators and two-wheelers, through SECC data, and large farmers through agriculture databases based on procurement and land ownership databases. This way, the Odisha government was able to identify 12,45,490 SMF and 320,000 landless agri-HHs. In the absence of a beneficiary database, a mix of strong political will and administrative endeavours in data analytics, as well as on-ground mobilisation, yielded results for the government.

On February 24, 2019, PM Modi will launch PM-KISAN scheme in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh and transfer its first installment of `2,000 (out of the annual `6,000) to 1 crore SMF of the country. The target is to transfer it to 12 crore SMF in a year. Sharecroppers, tenants and the landless agri-workforce are excluded from this scheme. Can the Central government draw some learnings from Odisha? Can PM-KISAN devise a component for its landless, too? There is a clear need to include this vulnerable section under PM-KISAN but identifying beneficiaries will be an uphill task, as the database on landowners is outdated. The task is difficult but not impossible. How PM Modi acts and pays heed, only time will tell.

Saini is a senior consultant at ICRIER and Bansal is co-founder of Samagra

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