In terms of ease, citizens of Nagri block in Ranchi dislike the pilot cash transfer-based PDS, reveals social audit
The outcome of a social audit (conducted in April this year) related to the pilot cash transfer programme in the public distribution system (PDS) in Nagri block (Ranchi district) has confirmed that most beneficiaries want back the normal ration system that existed previously. Yet the Jharkhand state government continues with the DBT-based PDS in Nagri block, instead of returning back to the older system, says a press release by the Right to Food Campaign dated 21st June, 2018.
When it comes to ease, instead of a direct benefit transfer (DBT) -based system for purchasing subsidized food grains from fair price shops (FPS), 96.9 percent of the 8,370 respondents (viz. ration card holders) of the social audit survey, belonging to 46 villages (from 13 Gram Panchayats) of Nagri block, conveyed that they prefer the old ration system. However, 2.4 percent respondents felt that the DBT is a better option.
Readers may note that a survey of 244 households spread across 13 randomly selected villages of Nagri block (conducted between 28th January and 3rd February, 2018) by student volunteers found that 97 percent of respondents wanted the cash transfer system to be withdrawn in favour of the old system viz. rice at the price of Re 1/- per kg at the ration shop/ FPS. One may recall that following the release of the results of that survey, on 26th February, 2018 aggrieved beneficiaries from Nagri walked to the Governor’s house in Ranchi so as to demand for the discontinuation of DBT in favour of the earlier system.
Table 1: Beneficiaries receiving DBT and purchasing ration (in %)
Source: Secondary data from Department of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs, Government of Jharkhand, Report on Social Audit of "Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for food subsidy", Pilot in Nagri, Ranchi, Jharkhand, 11th-16th April, 2018, please click here to access
As could be observed from table-1, although the number of beneficiaries receiving DBT as a proportion of total number of ration card holders has reduced from 82.11 percent to 67.72 percent between October, 2017 and March, 2018, the number of beneficiaries lifting ration as a proportion of total number of beneficiaries receiving cash transfer in their bank accounts almost doubled from 57.51 percent to 107.55 percent in the same time span. The table-1 clearly shows that there was a rise in the number of beneficiaries who spent their own money in order to purchase ration from FPS despite not receiving DBT in their bank accounts.
Why is it so that poor people spent their own hard-earned money in order to purchase food grains? What are they afraid of?
A previous news alert by the Inclusive Media for Change shows that a notice was issued by the district and block level supply officials in February, 2018, which clearly warned that if the cash transferred to the aadhaar-seeded bank account of a beneficiary is not utilized for purchasing ration, then further subsidy would be stopped. That notice also said that a beneficiary has to regularly purchase ration at FPS out of the cash transferred, barring which the same will be recovered from him/ her. Therefore, it seems that despite a fall in the number of beneficiaries receiving DBT in their bank accounts between October, 2017 and March, 2018, there was an increase in the number of beneficiaries lifting ration from FPS using their own money because the beneficiaries may have been afraid of losing the validity of their ration cards and also worried about facing unnecessary hassles.
The entire report related to the social audit, which was conducted by the Social Audit Department during 11th–16th April, 2018, is now available in the public domain. Among other things, the Executive Summary of that social audit, which was obtained using the Right to Information Act, says that the average time taken in withdrawal of last DBT transfer and purchase of rice from the ration shop turned out to be 13.1 hours during the period October 2017 to March, 2018.
Out of the total 7,485 withdrawals that were made between October, 2017 and March, 2018, 66.5 percent withdrawals were made from banks, 25.3 percent from Pragya Kendras and a miniscule 2.3 percent were made from ATMs. Due to the paucity of bank branches in rural Jharkhand, the withdrawal of DBT-related amounts from banks become quite time-consuming and inconvenient for the beneficiaries.
It is worth noting that the Report of the Committee on Medium-term Path on Financial Inclusion, which was prepared under the chairpersonship of Deepak Mohanty, had found that the north-eastern states apart from states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh were less penetrated in terms of the number of branches in relation to their population. The state-wise numbers for Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account (BSBDA) density (per thousand population) as on March 2015 suggest that several north-eastern and eastern states lag behind as compared to the national average.
The press release dated 21st June, 2018 by the Right to Food Campaign says that out of the due 6 DBT-instalments a beneficiary is supposed to receive per month, on an average 3.6 number of monthly instalments were received from October 2017 to March 2018. Similarly, out of the due 6 monthly rations a beneficiary is supposed to buy, on an average rice was purchased 4.1 times per month from FPS between October, 2017 and March, 2018.
The social audit report also reveals that altogether 38 Gram Sabhas were held in 46 villages of 13 Gram Panchayats in April, 2018. 8 villages were not covered because of being notified as urban area. A total of 36 Gram Sabhas unanimously said “No to DBT”, thus, preferring the previously existing subsidized food grain distribution system. However, 2 Gram Sabhas of Nagri block said that the DBT is acceptable only when the operational system is completely reformed.
Despite opposition from Gram Sabhas, cash transfer ordeal continues in Nagri block (Jharkhand), Press Release by the Right to Food Campaign, 21st June 2018, please click here to access
Report on Social Audit of "Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for food subsidy", Pilot in Nagri, Ranchi, Jharkhand, 11th to 16th April, 2018, please click here to access
"DBT for food subsidy" experiment in Jharkhand dismal failure, most people oppose it, Press Release from Right to Food Campaign, dated 24 February, 2018, please click here to access
A collection of testimonies and case studies from the victims of the DBT experiment in Nagri block (Jharkhand) with photographs (English), https://goo.gl/dFT2p2
A collection of testimonies and case studies from the victims of the DBT experiment in Nagri block (Jharkhand) with video clips, https://goo.gl/TXrbjN
Report of the Committee on Medium-term Path on Financial Inclusion, Reserve Bank of India, 28th December, 2015, please click here to access
PDS beneficiaries oppose cash transfers in Nagri block of Jharkhand, News alert by Inclusive Media for Change dated 26th February, 2018, please click here to access
Food activists slam govt on hunger deaths, The Telegraph, 22nd June, 2018, please click here to access
People spend 13 hours to access direct benefit transfers in Ranchi -Mayank Jain, Business Standard, 22nd June, 2018, please click here to access
Poor prefer subsidized grains over cash dole, finds Jharkhand audit -Sayantan Bera, Livemint.com, 22nd June, 2018, please click here to access
If Jharkhand's Direct Benefit Transfer Experiment Isn't Working, Why Is It Still On? -Jahnavi Sen, TheWire.in, 21st June, 2018, please click here to read more
Image Courtesy: Right to Food Campaign, https://twitter.com/rozi_roti
Tagged with: Direct Benefit Transfer Direct Benefit Transfer (dbt) National Food Security Act National Food Security Act (nfsa) Public Distribution System Public Distribution System (pds) Ration Shops Cash Transfer Cash Transfers Jharkhand