New Delhi: Amid concerns that sticking to Aadhaar criteria could deprive many people especially in remote areas of benefits of UPA`s ambitious cash transfer scheme, Union Minster Jairam Ramesh on Friday cautioned against a situation when Aadhaar becomes "an instrument of exclusion".
"Unfortunately many of the beneficiaries of government programmes are outside the network of Aadhaar numbers` network. So you find that in a very large number of the districts... The Aadhaar coverage is much much below the critical threshold of 75 to 80 percent. That really has to be seen," Ramesh said addressing a conference on cash transfer schemes here.
He said that there is a need to be "very very careful" to ensure that "lack of a Aadhaar number does not become an alibi of exclusion of the beneficiary".
"We do not want to be in a situation, when Aadhaar becomes an instrument of exclusion. That if you do not have the Aadhaar number, you will not get the benefits. We do not want this situation and this situation is very probable. One should never discount the probability of a local level functionary saying that since you do not have a Aadhaar number, you are not eligible," he said.
There have been reports that Centre may bypass Aadhaar to accomplish the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) before the scheme is launched on July 1.
The Union Minster also rued that the public sector banks are not responding adequately to the Banking Correspondents (BCs) model, which is absolutely critical for delivering benefits directly into the hands of beneficiaries.
"Private banks have been far more innovative than public banks regarding the use of BCs. To get public sector banks in the framework of BCs has been a challenge. Banks are simply not on board as far as this crucial thing of BCs is concerned," Ramesh said.
The minister also favoured relying more on post offices to reach out to people in the remote tribal areas than banks, widening and strengthening the network of BCs to include self help groups, Asha workers and other such agencies and moving away from BPL/APL issue while deciding on beneficiaries.
"We focus too much on banks, when we talk of financial inclusions. In tribal are rural areas, post offices are much more effective. There is a need to take the post office thing much more seriously. Access to post offices is far more easier than banks," Ramesh said at the conference, where concerns were raised on the role of banks with some dubbing them as a big obstacle.
As representatives from UNICEF and SEWA Bharat hailed the outcome of their pilot project of giving additional cash income to the stakeholders, Ramesh had a word of caution saying he had seen many such "magic bullets" and advocated the need for a more comprehensive survey to validate the points.
He, however, hailed the survey for "dispelling some of the myths" associated with unconditional transfer of cash to beneficiaries.
Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) having membership of around 17 lakh entered into a partnership with UNICEF to pilot an unconditional cash transfer (UCT), or basic income grant experiment in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.
The study done in these rural areas covering 20 villages revealed that recipients of UCT were significantly more likely to contribute to their dwellings.
Holding that an interoperable open architecture of banking correspondents is one of the pillars of the "giant exercise" of DBT, the minister said that change in the BC model is absolutely critical for delivering benefits directly into the hands of beneficiaries.
The purpose of Direct Benefits Transfer is to ensure that benefits go to individuals` bank accounts electronically, minimising those involved in fund flow thereby reducing delay in payment as well as curbing pilferage and duplication.
Ramesh said that the net of BCs should be widened to include SHGs, Asha workers and other such agencies. "We have to get the BC network right. That is the fundamental flaw in our system," Ramesh said.
On apprehensions about exclusion of the real needy persons from the list of beneficiaries, the minister said that the problem will be solved "only when we clean up the BPL list".
"The answer to inclusion or exclusion is to move away from BPL/APL issue. That is the direction in which we are headed. In the last years in two major government programmes, we have actually abandoned the BPL as a criteria for reaching the benefits.
"First, in the sanitation programme in the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and now as part of National Rural Livelihood Mission. We have removed it and moved towards a system of participatory identification of the poor," the minister said.
He noted that there are only three major government programmes which are now BPL centric food subsidy-- Indira Awas Yojana and Pensions.
"Even out of these three, I have already moved proposals to make pension universal with exclusion criteria to get away from this controversial BPL controversy.
"About Indira Awas Yojana we have already announced that from next year 2014, we would not go by the BPL criteria but we will go by the houselessness data collected through the socio-economic caste census," he said.