Welfare 2.0 : Direct Cash Transfer as a Killer App?

When Nandan Nilekani’s Biometric Identification card initiative : Aadhar commenced in 2009, it seemed to be an ambitious public information infrastructure project, without any political pay off for the ruling establishment. Well, it was Nandan Nilekani- India’s celebrated IT CEO turned cabinet minister level technocrat, having repeated run in’s with the Home and Finance Ministry’s over security concerns and budgetary allocations. Turf Wars in the Bureaucratic mess of Delhi.

I am an advocate of State based welfare schemes and have been pro MNREGA and other big ticket schemes (folks might call them mega scams generating options too). Well, because scams might take place because of leakages in the system, the state should not abandon its  Public Goods Deliverable’s. Welfare is often the only resort of the poorest of poor.

Steps might be implemented in terms of plugging in the leakages via adequate implementation of existing policies or even introduce a legislation such as Lok Pal. One of the four basic services which the Government should provide are Public Goods such as Subsidy. Diesel subsidy for running SUV’s is a blatant exploitation of the loopholes.

Applying large scale IT solutions can help track loop holes, but local level innovative solutions are required to monitor graft and leakages. Manpower is in shortage to implement existing programmes, so additional heads are required that such a mega project can work. Announcing a scheme and executing it with the allocation of relevant resources; local and central are a pre-requisite. Involvement of civil society and private sector are paramount in bridging the skills shortage.

Direct Cash Transfer can help cut out the middle man in disbursing pensions and scholarships where financial infrastructure is absent. I am not really confident if it can replace the Public Distribution System for Subsidized grains in the near future. Entitlement based welfare has to be multi pronged in strategy.

This initiative has given Nandan Nilekani’s project a political life and Congress a life line for 2014. Aapka Paisa aapke haath, sounds empowering to the common man but it leaves him also at the mercy of the market forces of demand and supply as the cash transfer is a rigid and finite event.

Who said Technology cant drive political innovativeness? never underestimate the likes of Jairam and PC to pull out a trick out of their hat. Did i mention that Jairam and Nandan were batchmates at IIT Bombay?


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