Interview with Amitabh Datta. Manager NREGA, Rural Development Department, Agartala, Tripura
Duration: 00:28:43; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 12.954; Saturation: 0.095; Lightness: 0.421; Volume: 0.161; Cuts per Minute: 0.035; Words per Minute: 90.950
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.
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 Amitabh Datta, who manages the NREGA scheme within the Rural Development Department, in which he speaks at large about the business correspondent (BC) model, its implementation, the challenges associated with this model and the several benefits it brings for NREGA job card holders especially in light of the alleged “malpractices” involved in older, manual means of disbursing wages. In addition, he mentions the cost involved in creating smart cards for NREGA job card holders to allow biometric authentication by BCs for wage payments, the substitution of smart cards by the Aadhaar number and the associated costs, physical security of business correspondents carrying cash, and the linking of the NREGA database with Aadhhar numbers and the RSBY database. With regard to state owned databases he is critical of the paucity of information captured under the KYR+ part of the Aadhaar form and the robustness of the EPIC data.
Speaker: As I was saying, this is there at the GP level, the job card holders are provided with the biometric cards. Aadhaar is also a biometric-oriented scheme. We're capturing the biometrics of all the individuals, be it urban or rural. They’re capturing their biometric data. As far as that part is concerned, UID and BC, yes they can be at some point of time be utilised. If somebody has Aadhaar, he is entitled to a bank account with that Aadhaar number. So, obviously we can include Aadhaar. And already we're mapping the NREGA job card holders with their Aadhaar number. I can show you the MIS, where you find that... As far as Tripura's documents are concerned, Tripura's bagged the all-India first prize in terms of Aadhaar enrolments. That you have already learned from the chief engineers.
Interviewer: So what is the authentication mechanism now for the... Like before the UID comes in
Speaker: Right now ...BC; they're using biometric cards, which are basically swipe cards. Once that is swiped, only then the transaction is possible. Without that card... Still there're some... this mechanism also, suppose somebody has lost a card and needs money urgently, then there is authentication by the BC himself. There is a mechanism. That part if you to the field level only then you'll know how they're doing it. State level it is difficult. But this mechanism is there.
Interviewer: How long has the BC model been there? What was the mode of wage payment? Manual?
Speaker: Before this only manual payment was there. At the beginning of this NREGA scheme, initially it was manual wage payment.
Then it was converted to bank account based. All the registered job card holders have their own bank accounts and the money goes straight to the accounts. Previously there was a bank scroll type of thing.
The pradhan or the panchayat secretary of that GP will collect the bank scroll and the signatures in a bank scroll, consolidate it, check and draw all the amount for the NREGA workers and job card holders and disbursed through the panchayat secretary or the GRS.
So that led to lots of malpractices. Obviously, say a person residing in a remote area, if he has to come to the bank and return to his home, what happens is, the total cost becomes Rs.100.
So he's earning Rs.100 per day, so he doesn't have any savings. If he earns 600-700 a day and spend 100 for transportation, that becomes quite difficult.
That's why they in lieu of paying, say, Rs.50 per transaction, they were getting whatever amount applicable. Right now what is happening is, the BC is going straight to the villages with the funds.
Here what is happening is, they get to get their wages, collect their funds, they get payment slips also showing that they have accounts and whatever savings are there. Basically in Tripura we have a large amount of tribal population.
Initially they did not have any idea of savings. They were existing hand to mouth without savings. Once their money is going to the bank account, they can learn that they can save some money and as per their requirement they could withdraw and deposit their earnings in that account.
So the benefits of the whole banking system gets into that (end-service). These are the benefits. Remote, unbanked areas have been covered which was not even dreamt of a few years ago. This is the status, benefit or utility of this model.
But that should no be the ultimate aim... As I have heard that the ministry is also pushing us to increase the coverage of banks in remote unbanked areas. So that we don't have to depend on the BCs all the time. If we make the BC the main thing, in that case the bankers will not go inside, they will just try to finish it up with the BCs itself.
So it has some risk. There was an incident in south Tripura, where somebody robbed a BC and the news came up in the local newspapers also. It’s not possible to provide adequate security for all the BCs going to the banks. In fact they're transacting a large amount of funds also. So these are the positives and negatives of BC.
Interviewer: How do you identify the BCs? How does one become a BC?
Speaker: The BCs basically were selected by the bankers. We have an understanding with the bankers that, 'you engage your own BC, we'll pay them'. We pay per job card holder Rs. 200 for two years. This was the amount. You can have a look at it also.
It's written in the MoU also.
"RD department shall extend one time financial assistance to, (Tripura Grameen Bank) at Rs.200 per job card as mutually agreed and this will be released as per the following schedule: first installment of Rs. 50 per job card will be placed in advance of the signing amount. Rs.50 per job card to be placed after delivery of biometric cards to all workers. Officialisation of BC within a time frame," (which they have given as December 2010). "Third installment of Rs.50 per job card will be placed after 6 months. The last installment will be given in December 2011. The payment to be released as per the details in annexure 2". "For job card bank accounts, falling in jurisdiction of TGB - Tripura Grameen Bank."
They have... MoU says that 200 rupees will be given on phase money in four installments. That is how they have applied for the positions of BCs.
Interviewer: In terms of sanctions for the NREGA work, I think I read in one budget report that it's slightly coming down. There’s a possibility that they may not be able to support this 100 days' work. Is there something... If you compare it to the previous...
Speaker: In fact actually, we from the state level are pressing hard to increase that 100 days ceiling to say 200 .We're pressing for increasing the ceiling. Decreasing, I haven't heard. But it certain states, I don't know, may be. AP and other states, most probably in Maharashtra. The state government in paying for 200 days or something like that. This fund, they're giving it from their own state exchequer.
This is flexible. The central government ministry gives you 100 days' money. If you want to give extra, no issue. If you have money of your own then you can.
Reducing the 100 days of work, I haven't heard of that.
Interviewer: So the question which is coming actually is, you're saying that the BCs already have an authentication mechanism through the smart cards. Now, will Aadhaar, once it is completely rolled out...
Speaker: In fact 85% has already been covered.
Interviewer: Right. So do you think there's a need for that authentication mechanism that Aadhaar is bringing? Whereas already there's something that exists?
Speaker: If a person has an Aadhaar number, then that is quite enough. Just give the Aadhaar number, take any of the biometrics that were captured during Aadhaar enrolment and that is quite authentic enough. It's fully biometric; in fact in that case, the smart cards are also not needed.
Actually, technology during the time of launching a BC, we launched it almost around 2 years ago. so during that period, Aadhaar wasn't there. So later on Aadhaar cam. Now we can move forward and include Aadhaar and that has already been done also. We have captured all the registered job card holders who have Aadhaar numbers. That has been captured in the MIS and the reports are showing.
The enrolment is over, but the delivery of Aadhaar numbers is very slow. In fact, I enrolled myself 5 months ago, but when I track it in MIS, i get to see that Aadhaar number has been generated from the system but the next level is level 6 which has not been given to the India Post. That is the main thing; you can say, bottleneck in the operation which is increasing the cycle time.
Once that part is looked after, it will be pretty easy to have Aadhaar number for all the registered job card holders and the process is going on. It is not difficult.
Interviewer: The cost that you incur in generating every smart card, that cost will just go off?
Speaker: There’s' already an expenditure for the enrolment of UID. That expenditure is already there. Why go for a duplicate and increase expenditure? That will be automatically reduced.
Interviewer: What is the approximate cost..
Speaker: For Aadhaar?
Interviewer: For the current smart card.
Speaker: Biometric smart card... that the bankers are looking after. They had floated their own tenders or RFPs and engaged their vendors. So whatever their understanding or agreement with their BC vendors, they have the data. We don't have it. We're not interested in what the cost is.
Interviewer: But the cost your department incurs is that 200 rupees...
Speaker: Yes. They’re using the 16 bit version of the biometric card.16 or 32 bit, I don't know. One agency had the 32 bit version of the memory chip.
Interviewer: Once it gets swiped, is that machine connected online or local?
Speaker: It's offline. All the safeguards are taken case of. It has no mishap vis a vis distribution of funds through BC. Only one thing, security issue is there.
Because it's very difficult to provide adequate security for all the BCs. That's why what we have done is, identified the areas that are vulnerable, which need some security and providing it. But it is not possible to extend security at every locality.
There are areas where there are no incidents, where law and order is good enough. There the BCs are going to the banks inside the GP and distributing the funds.
Interviewer: on this question of integrating the NREGA database with the other data bases, synchronisation... would you say a little about that?
Speaker: Right now this linking it with Aadhaar is going on. Other than this, we’re also mapping the BPL-applied category of information in the NREGA database. RSBI data also is getting captured with the NREGA data.
Interviewer: What is the imagination behind it? What is the intention of combining these databases?
Speaker: The ministry is giving some special offers for RSBY, those NREGA job card holders those who have got say more than 15 days, they will be entitled to have insurance coverage under RSBY. This sort of headlines have already come. There are guidelines. You can find it in the ministry's website also.
Speaker: No, for the entire country. So Inclusion and linking of RSBY information with NREGA job card holders is the mandate of the ministry itself, the central government. We'll have to do it.
Interviewer: It is only RSBY and NREGA?
Speaker: RSBY, BPL information, Aadhaar information and later on we can include the voter Id card and EPIC data can also be included. These are the... I think these are quite enough. We don' require anymore.
Interviewer: What is the common thing that unites all these databases - it will then be Aadhaar? How will you combine RSBY database with NREGA? What would be the common element?
Speaker: We have the common information as the job card number. Against which we have RSBY information, against that we have the Aadhaar number. We can make the NREGA job card number as the common. Or Vice versa, if Aadhaar number is given, you can have the KYR+information.
We thought about collecting KYR+ information also but that could not be implemented... maybe in some parts, in most of the cases you can see that KYR information hasn't been captured properly. Certain cases they were included, lot of cases KYR+ data is missing.
Interviewer: What was the KYR+ data and how did you...
Speaker: KYR+, we have included a lot of things. There we have captured the family ID of the member. There we have captured the EPIC, NREGA information and ration card information. These were supposed to get captured but I don't know how far this information was captured. Only when we look at the reports, we'll be able to judge it. Only then we can say that yes, a portion has been captured as the EPIC information is captured with Aadhaar.
Because EPIC information is 99.9% captured in Tripura. EPIC is 100% fully authentic. This is the only information that is totally free from any contradictions or confusions. We can link it with any database.
Interviewer: What was the plan with KYR+ if it had been captured properly?
Speaker: Somebody wanted to issue some identity.... personal information or some sort of certificates - birth or death, or PRC, just having the KYR+ information is enough. IF you give the Aadhaar number then you PRTC comes automatically. And it will get authenticated and you can even take printout from there and that is quite authentic. These are the facilities that could have been extended to the citizens.
Interviewer: On the question of identification of BPL people, I was reading some reports that there been event s of some duplication of ration cards and APL category taking benefits of BPL...
Speaker: I don't think that would be possible now. That will because right now we are in the midst of SECC 2011 (Socio-Economic and Caste Census) which has been launched in Tripura for the first time in the whole country. Previously, we had conducted a state level BPL census. Judging our preparedness on the BPL census the ministry has decided to launch the programme.
Interviewer: when was the State census done?
Speaker: It was launched on 26th June 2011.
Interviewer: And that's completed.
Speaker: It's almost complete.
Interviewer: That was for identification of BPL?
Speaker: Basically for BPL... Socio-economic and caste census. Caste based information was captured. Right now, from that information, for a person to become a BPL category lots of indicators were captured. Once the application logic is run, with that database, then we can ascertain how much percentage of the population is falling under BPL category and how much in the APL.
So that part is also SECC been conducted by the government of India. Right now once that exercise is over, there won’t be any chances of duplication. Because this time everything captured digitally. SECC is a paperless exercise.
The data entry operator goes inside the village with handheld android devices, touch screen. There the information is captured right inside the database. So chances of mistakes or duplication doesn't arise.
Interviewer: It's happening now?
Interviewer: Does the KYR+ data also been thought out as something that will help clean up the existing database, removing duplicates in the state ration database.
Speaker: Definitely. If you have authentic KYR+ database, then we can do away with a lot of unnecessary, redundant data.
IF KYR+ information was captured. Still KYR is there. That KYR+ can be included anytime. Right now there is a ruling from Supreme Court that all the ration cards will have to have the Aadhaar number mandatorily. Ration cards also will have Aadhaar number and Aadhaar number will have the biometric information.
Once a person will buy ration, he will have to authenticate his biometric at the ration shop along with the biometric authentication of the ration shop owner. It's just like operating a bank locker. Two parties will have to give their biometrics only then your ration card information will get updated. There also we'll save lots of money. There will b more transparency and less corruption. This is being thought of and in fact Tripura is also doing in that line only.
Interviewer: Will new ration cars be generated for everybody?
Speaker: New ration cards with Aadhaar information will be issued. In fact in the KYR + we were supposed to capture the ration card information also. If that was done, it would've been very easy. Anyway, whatever has been captured, has been captured, the rest will also have to be captured in the next phase.