PDS beneficiaries oppose cash transfers in Nagri block of Jharkhand

PDS beneficiaries oppose cash transfers in Nagri block of Jharkhand


Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) or cash transfer might appear attractive on papers, but in reality it is opposed by its beneficiaries when implemented. Something similar to this has happened in the Nagri block of Ranchi district, where cash is being transferred to the aadhaar seeded bank accounts of beneficiaries in lieu of providing subsidized foodgrains.

Cash transfers in the public distribution system (PDS) has been in operation in the Nagri block (Jharkhand) on a pilot basis since October, 2017. However, a recent survey of 244 households spread across 13 randomly selected villages of this block (between 28th January and 3rd February, 2018) reveals that the respondents (viz. beneficiaries of the DBT scheme) are facing several difficulties in accessing the money, which has been transferred into their bank accounts.

For example, 95 percent of respondents (beneficiaries) were not informed by the concerned officials, which bank account of theirs would be used for DBT credits. As a result, a majority of the beneficiaries had to do a lot of running around to withdraw the transferred amount for purchasing foodgrains from ration shops. The survey has found that on an average the distance from a beneficiary’s home to the bank is 4.5 km.

A pamphlet by the Right to Food Campaign says that instead of getting cheap foodgrains (viz. rice), money is getting transferred to the bank account of the PDS beneficiary so as to buy rice at a price of Rs. 32 per kg (viz. market rate) from ration shops or fair price shops (FPSs). However, earlier a beneficiary was able to buy rice from ration shop/ FPS at Re 1 per kg. So, protest rallies have been organized in various parts of the state on 26th February so as to oppose Jharkhand government’s move to implement the DBT scheme in lieu of subsidized cereals.   

Jean Dreze Image
Jean Drèze speaking at a Press Conference (Ranchi) on Nagri DBT, dated 23rd February, 2018, Image Courtesy: https://twitter.com/rozi_roti

A notice issued by the district and block level supply officials in February, 2018 (please click here to access) clearly warns that if the cash transferred to the aadhaar seeded bank account of a beneficiary is not utilized for purchasing ration, then subsidy will be stopped. That notice further adds that a beneficiary has to regularly purchase ration at FPSs out of the cash transferred, barring which the same will be recovered from him/ her.

The resistance to Nagri block's experiment with DBT in lieu of subsidized ration should not be seen as an isolated event. In fact, an official communication dated 15 May, 2015 by the Joint Secretary of the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution (click here and here to access) clearly says that "(k)eeping in view complexities and difficulties involved in the Model-ii, which involves foodgrains transfers at near market price, crediting the food subsidy into the bank accounts of beneficiaries and distribution through existing FPSs using PoS (viz. point of sale system), this model is not being pursued."

According to the press release by Right to Food Campaign dated 24 February, 2018, the key findings of the survey are as follows:

• Sample households have on an average 3.4 number of bank accounts. But few were asked which account would be used for DBT transfers. Many had to run around for days to find out.

• A large majority (70 percent) of respondents have no way to find out whether their DBT money has come other than going to the bank. On an average, the bank is 4.5 km away from the beneficiary’s home.

• Aside from visiting the bank to check their balance, many people have to go to the local Pragya Kendra (business correspondent) to collect the cash, before going to the ration shop. On an average, the Pragya Kendra is 4.3 km away from the beneficiary’s home.

• Out of 4 installments of DBT money which is due to the respondents (beneficiaries) since October 2017, they have received only 2.1 installments on an average.

• Out of 4 monthly rice rations due to the respondents (beneficiaries) since October 2017, they have been able to collect only 2.5 on an average.

• The last time they collected their PDS rice, respondents spent an average of 12 hours going to and queuing at the bank, Pragya Kendra and ration shop. About 28 percent of respondents spent more than 15 hours (equivalent to two work days) collecting their rice.

• An overwhelming majority (97 percent) of respondents want the DBT system to be withdrawn in favour of the old system - rice at Re 1 per kg at the ration shop/ FPS.


References:

"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

DBT protest at CM's door, The Telegraph, 25 February, 2018, please click here to access

97 Percent Residents Unhappy with Jharkhand's Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme, Says Survey -Aradhna Wal, News18.com, 24 February, 2018, please click here to access

Watch: Food or cash? 97% of people surveyed in this Jharkhand block had the same answer, Scroll.in, 24 February, 2018, please click here to access
 
Almost everyone in this Jharkhand block wants food and not cash, Scroll.in, 23 February, 2018, please click here to access 

Aadhaar-for-food can't be a mandatory requirement -Swati Narayan, Hindustan Times, 22 February, 2018, please click here to access 

Jharkhand govt’s bank transfer pilot for food subsidies turns a nightmare -Ashlin Mathew, National Herald, 21 February, 2018, please click here to access
 
‘Direct benefit transfer’ pilot project for food subsidises turns a burden in Jharkhand -Sanjoy Dey, Hindustan Times, 15 February, 2018, please click here to access 

(Not) Direct, (No) Benefits (Cost) Transfer in Jharkhand -Akash Ranjan, The Wire, 23 January, 2018, please click here to access
 
Following the grain trail: on India’s public distribution system -Jean Drèze, The Hindu, 17 January, 2018, please click here to access 

Image Courtesy: https://twitter.com/rozi_roti





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