Interview with S.K. Satapathy - Secretary, Rural Development Department, Government of Jharkhand
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Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Interview with S.K. Satapathy, Secretary of Rural Development Department in Jharkhand, in which he speaks about integration of the Aadhaar database with the NREGA database and some key challenges he foresees in this integration – compliance with NREGA guidelines, connectivity in rural areas and time required for authentication of a beneficiary. He sees the Aadhaar card as perhaps primarily, maybe exclusively, contributing to eliminating leakage: fake and ghost card. Admitting that he has bno absolute figures on how many such cards there may be, he imagines that there could be abetween 10-15%. He also speaks about the current status of NREGA in the state and several challenges that the scheme is facing. He also speaks positively of the UID and its link with bank accounts and the benefits that can be derived from that integration.
The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us the benefits of UID enabled and what are the challenges involved in completely integrating the UID.
Speaker: In NREGA we have 38 lakh card holders spread over all the districts. We are implementing NREGA for the last 5 years. Now with the UID enabled NREGA the first benefit we will get is removing the bogus and duplicate entries.
Like we are finding that the NREGA cards have duplicates. And there are certain families that don't have the cards. The cards are held by some intermediaries and third persons etc. There are certain cases that have come before us which have authenticated these things. With the implementation of the UID these ghost, bogus and duplicate entries will be removed. This is one of our prime concerns.
With the UID enabled NREGA we need not require to have a physical position of that card because the person will do that work will use his biometric information in place of this NREGA card. All his information, like the demand for job, payment details and other data can go directly to the MIS portal through his UID.
The third issue that will benefit are the payments. Right now we make payments through post office or the banks. Most of the post offices are not computerised here. There are banks that are computerised. But this payment process in the post office is taking a lot of time. Moreover due to a lack of computerization there are again bogus payments that are made to third parties.
With UID enabled payments we will have the benefit of removing all these duplicate entries. And the payment will be made directly to the person to whom the payment is to be made. So there will not be intermediaries and there will not be fake passbooks. We get information that there are fake passbooks in the post offices and so on. This will remove all these irregularities and the payments can directly pass on to the hand of the beneficiaries concerned.
But again there are a lot of challenges in the implementation of UID enabled NREGA. And the first and foremost challenge is that we need to integrate the entire UID enabled services with the NREGA guidelines. And we also need to integrate the UID enabled software with the national portal which we have. This is a challenge that we need to overcome and for this we are appointing some consultant who can do this job.
Secondly, when this NREGA will be UID enabled we will need biometric devices for capturing demand for jobs, attendance and making payments. This again requires hardware as well as other logistical problems. Hardware is another challenge and the cost will be much more.
Now suppose even if we pay for the hardware from the state funds or NREGA funds. The other logistical arrangements and connectivity is a major issue. Because all these devices will be in rural areas in hard-to-reach areas where we lack connectivity right now.
Most of these hard-to-reach areas are not connected to the internet and so on. So we need to address this problem and this is a major issue before us. Third challenge is verification of that person. Suppose a person concerned has to be authenticated and verified from the UID server. Right now connectivity is one major issue and the other is the time it takes to verify that person from the UID server.
Suppose a large number of persons need to be verified at certain points in time, it may take a long time for the verification. This will be another hurdle and challenge before us. I think these are 3-4 challenges which we will face in the future course of action and we need to remove this.
INTERVIEWER: When you say duplicate or ghost entries. What is the nature of ghost entries? 1 person has 2 job cards is it?
Speaker: One person may have two job cards. Or there may be job cards without any person. Like there is no physical presence of that person. If we have the job card in the name of Ram Singh in certain village. But that Ram Singh does not exist at all.
So there may be these ghost job cards etc. But this UID will completely remove it. Because we can make job cads or you can work under NREGA if you have a UID number. This job card will be linked to the UID number. The UID number will be given only to the real persons in that village. So if we have a fake job card that will automatically get removed. The job card will not have the UID number at all.
INTERVIEWER: Sir in terms of implementing NREGA in the state. What have been your most important challenges? Has there been work that has been available for all villages for 100 days. Have there been any difficulties in providing work to people?
Speaker: The first and foremost is the capacity of the institution. In Jharkhand, the Panchayats did not exist. Now we have the panchayat elections and the panchayats are in place.
The capacity of these panchayats were not there, but now they have the capacity. We need to train them and involve them in NREGA work. This is the first and foremost challenge that we can see. The second constraint is that we have been making payments to the beneficiaries within 15 days because that is the statutory requirement under the Act.
Due to lack of financial institutions in terms of presence of bank branches and presence of post offices in all the bank branches in the villages is causing a lot of concern to us because, unless we have banks or post offices in every panchayat, we can’t make payments to all beneficiaries. So the lack of infrastructure in terms of the financial institutions is another constraint.
For this we are making an effort to establish a panchayat-level banking outlet in each and every panchayat. In Jharkhand we have 4423 odd panchayats. And in almost all the panchayants we want to establish banking outlets in terms of the Business Correspondents. So Business Correspondent will work in that panchayat and he can make the payments under NREGA.
And all these accounts will be in one bank or the other. So all the beneficiaries will have a bank account and their payments will be made from these panchayat level bank that we are going to open within a year or so.
The third biggest challenge is that the workers are not very aware of all their entitlements. So we need to provide the awareness and educate them so that they use their entitlements. So this is another constraint we are facing.
The forth constraint is that there is a lack of convergence within the NREGA schemes. And the planning process again: the lack of convergence in the planning process.
INTERVIEWER: Can you explain the lack of convergence a little more?
Speaker: Because you see this NREGA and other schemes - for a particular person to develop he requires education. He requires health as well as employment. These three are very primary components for any human development. Now, for the village also to develop, it not only needs NREGA work component but it also requires water resources, drinking water, electricity and other sort of things.
So for an overall development of a village it requires almost all the components all the departmental interventions. And majority of those developmental aspects can be take care by NREGA and the rest can be taken care by other departments as such. So the plan of the village should be a holistic plan not the component wise plan and this is the NREGA and this is other departments schemes are. We need to have a wholistic development plan for the village and then we will take out the component for NREGA form that and NREGA schemes will be implemented from the NREGA funds and so on. Other schemes will be implemented by other schemes funds.
So all the schemes should (collectively) converge on a village. So by this I mean that convergence to the village level. And all the habitations where these habitations are, all these households should involve themselves in the development of their village plan. So unless they involve themselves for the development of the village plan they cannot execute that plan well.
I mean that we should have the holistic plan of the village.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, in your experience as a NREGA administrator what do you think is the percentage of bogus cards or false entries that exist within the system. To what extent is it a problem, bogus entries?
Speaker: You see we have not done any research study on this issue so I can't tell you what is the figure, but I have some previous experience in other social security schemes. In Dhanbad we computerized the social security scheme and made the entire scheme a web based system.
Then we found that there is almost 10% of 15% variation. Earlier the pensioners were something like 40,000 they got reduced to 34-32,000. So it had a variation of 10-15% - maybe because of death and certain other reasons. I think in a similar way if we extend that theory then almost 10-15% cards which maybe either duplicate, fake or ghost. It may be more or it may be less, and that is our previous experience.
INTERVIEWER: Speaking of your experience in Dhanbad in computerizing social security schemes: what does it involve? What does it mean to computerize a scheme?
Speaker: You see initially all these payments were made from the blocks and the panchayats etc. So the entire thing was not computerized: it was a manual system where the pensioners were being paid monthly or maybe once in three months, payments were being made to all these persons through a bank account, post office or cash.
We computerized the entire pensioner information, and after computerization we found that there are certain duplicate entries. If one person had two entries means that one person was getting pensions for two heads or maybe from two places or so. In certain cases the bank accounts were same but the names were different. So we ultimately found that one person has two names with the same account.
Again money is going to the same persons account. There is are certain persons who do not exist at all. So once we integrated all this data at the district level we found that there are around 10-15% of either duplicate entries or the person did not exist at all or the person had died or may be these are the reasons. That is why the number of pensioners went down by 10-15%. Once we computerized it we made it online.
It is a web based system and it is in the public domain, and anybody can see whether the person exists or not. Anybody can raise queries regarding any pensioner. Any pensioner can see whether his payment has come to the bank account or not.
So the computerization itself has reduced the number of pensioners by 10-15% and that does not involve the UID number. If we integrate the system with the UID then again we may be able to reduce it further. Because if a person in certain Block A maybe getting pension in certain Block B also.
So this did not get reduced because the names and accounts numbers may be different because the person’s name may be the same and the account number is different and the village name is different. So this did not get eliminated from that web based system. So once we give UID to each and every person then one person cannot get pension from two different villages.
Maybe in different blocks or different districts. Maybe that will eliminate the duplicate entries to a further level where we can really say that now our data is pure. Right now we cannot say that our data is pure. We have tried to make it pure but it is not 100% absolute pure. It has attained purity levels we can say 90-95%.
After this UID we can say that the data is 100% pure and there are no duplicate or fake entries at all.
INTERVIEWER: So the Aadhaar number is basically a universal number which everybody is entitled to. I am entitled to it just as much as a villager is. But a lot of the social welfare schemes of the government have eligibility criteria. Either it is caste based or class based...
Speaker: You see Aadhaar is a pure number. Which will be given to each and every individual. It doesn't say it belongs to certain caste of class or sex etc. The prime objective is that it will eliminate all the duplicate, fake and ghost entries. So if a person does not exist we cannot pass on the benefit to that person.
Right not what is happening in some of the schemes is that like social security as I have explained - in a similar way in the PDS also there are duplicate cards. There are fake cards. All these fake and duplicate entries will get eliminated.
And this is an area where UID will be used. This is an area where UID has a potential to make the data 100% pure. The purity of data, unless we have a list of beneficiaries that is correct, the person exists. Any scheme that we are implementing from the Government of India or the state government or the district level, unless we secure the purity of data the implementation of that scheme will not be up to expectation.
So, the Aadhaar will ensure the purity of data. And once we integrate the Aadhaar with the social security of other developmental schemes like social security, PDS, mid-day meal and NREGS. So we will link the UID with the other social economic developmental schemes to, first, eliminate fake entries, duplicate entries, ghost entries etc.
Second, to make payments. Right now we are making payments through post offices and banks. Everybody does not have bank account. What we are doing is that with the Aadhaar we are also opening a bank account. So every person with an Aadhaar number will have a bank account. And their bank account will be linked to the Aadhaar number. Suppose I have to pass money to 1 lakh beneficiaries living in the entire state and I know the Aadhaar number of each and every family.
One person may have multiple accounts. But he will have once 1 Aadhaar number. So if I have to pass on funds to one lakh persons or families having Aadhaar numbers, then we can directly pass on the funds from the state level or the government of India level.
We did not pass it on to the district to the block and to the panchayats. Once we pass it on from one level to the other there are certain costs involved with that. Administrative expenditure, transfer of fund is another, corruption is another issue, defalcation is another issue. So once we have an Aadhaar number and we know that the Aadhaar number means that the person exists.
Whether the person is entitled under the scheme will be checked by different agencies. So once I know that these 1 lakh beneficiaries are entitled to the benefits of certain scheme so we need to collect the Adhaar number of 1 lakh families, and once Aadhaar number is passed on to the state, district or to the central governmenta and suppose we have to regularly transfer money to those persons - like in the social benefit schemes - we have to pass on funds every month.
NREGA we have to give money after 7 days once the person has worked. So once we have an Aadhaar number we can directly transfer this fund to the Aadhaar number. And from the Aadhaar number it will go to the bank account and from the bank account that person can withdraw that money.
So this process of making payments to those persons will be simplified, and the layers will be cut down. So cutting down of layers and simplification - making payments through banks and all this- will be very easy once we have an Aadhaar number for every person. And once we have a bank account with Aadhaar numbers.
This is another area which we can explore.
INTERVIEWER: What would be the most significant challenges in biometric identification for a scheme like the NEREGA?
Speaker: Problems maybe there because we have not tried and tested it. Right now we are trying the payment to certain persons through UID-enabled accounts. That’s what we are trying to test. As you are rightly pointing out, the NREGA are the workers who do the manual work and they may not have their fingerprints may not match 100%. There may be a 30-40% match.
But again under UID we are taking all finger prints and we are capturing the iris. So maybe right now we are authenticating through a thumb impression. We may authenticate it through the left hand thumb impression, middle index or small finger. That can be used to authenticate and verify certain persons.
If that doesn’t match, obviously we can use iris information also but that we can do as we experiment with these things. We cannot right now tell what is the percentage of match unless we experiment and start the project on a pilot basis.
INTERVIEWER: Can you explain to us a little bit about the financial sharing between the centre and the state. How is NREGA funded?
Speaker: Under NREGA this entire payment of unskilled labourers is made by the government of India. So that is 60% of the entire expenditure under NREGA which is completely borne by the government of India. With respect to 40% expenditure on material, skilled and semi-skilled labourers work- 75% is given by the government of India 25% is given by the state government. And for this State Employment Guarantee Council the entire cost is borne by the state government.
There is an administrative expenditure of 6% on the wages and other equipment purchases etc. So that is borne by the government of India. This is the funding pattern under NREGA.
INTERVIEWER: The integration of the UID with the NREGA. What is the funding structure for associated expenditure of integrating the NREGA database with the UID?
Speaker: For this purpose the UID has given us Rs.2 crore for the entire application project. So the software part we may be able to complete with the UID finances, and for others the government of India has not given us assurances as such, neither has the state government.
We are in the process of experimenting with this. We will start on a pilot basis in certain districts. So maybe right now we have 6% of administrative expenditure under NREGA. Out of which we can use 1-2% because all 6% we are not able to spend on the administration. So the saving out of this 6% we will be using on the integration with the UID and NREGA.
INTERVIEWER: So what is the process in terms of a timeline like of the NREGA integration for the UID? For the NREGA administrator what is the department’s role?
Speaker: We are planning to do it within 6 months.
INTERVIEWER: What does the process involve?
Speaker: We will select the consultant who will design the project. The integration with UID and NREGA. After selection of the consultant and project preparation we will again invite a tender for selection of the vendor who will be doing this job. The training process and training of officials etc. who will actually be implementing this on the ground.
We will be doing it within six months. We will be doing it on a pilot basis. First we will be doing it certain blocks and if that succeeds then again we will scale it up to the entire state.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much!