Interview with Reddy Subramanyam, Principal Secretary, Department of Rural Affairs, Government of Andhra Pradesh
Duration: 00:46:43; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 41.690; Saturation: 0.135; Lightness: 0.437; Volume: 0.203; Words per Minute: 112.485
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
Reddy Subramanyam, Principal Secretary of the Department of Rural Development, Andhra Pradesh, speaks at length on the state government's history of digitization of state benefit. He goes back to the era of Chandrababu Naidu, and defines the various schemes at present in the state. He gives his views on just what Aadhaar could specifically do for the various state schemes and what it may not be able to do. He also gives his frank views on the micro-finance institutions in the state.
Unified database is not new. I don't know if you have followed Mr. Chandrababu Naidu's... when he was the chief minister a massive exercise had been done on giving unique identity to all the households. That particular activity has gone on for almost 6 years before it was given up.
There was no apparent reason. The activity that the UID is currently doing possibly would have looked at all those things. It has brought the biometrics into the thing, so to that extent the uniqueness is something we can clinically established, virtually.
But I think providing a unique identity is only one step towards it. What we feel in rural development and also in the PDS, is correct targeting. That is an issue which depends on the ability to assess the economic status of a household with some amount of accuracy.
Unfortunately - or fortunately - the UID doesn’t get into this. If they had gone into the assessment of economic capabilities they would have gotten into move controversy. But even without that, I think it does provide a big input in ensuring that duplicates are not there. That is, multiple benefits haven’t gone under one person. I think that is not as much an issue as incorrect targeting.
See PDS for example: what happens is the person who is not supposed to have the benefits is getting it. And then there is a lot of pilferage. These are the two issues that dog the PDS.
INTERVIEWER: What is the plan as far as that is concerned, targeting.
Speaker: This has nothing to do with targeting.
INTERVIEWER: How does one realistically go about determining the economic...
Speaker: Currently we are onto a major exercise called the SECC i.e. the Socio Economic and Caste Census. That is currently on in the state. We go by the Saxena Committee's recommendations. There is a system of automatic exclusion and automatic inclusion, and ranking of households under the deprivation criteria.
So it really looks at a multi-dimensional poverty index. So this exercise is currently on We are hopeful that it succeeds. The database that is coming out of such a Census will have a large bearing on ensuring that programmes are targeted. That combined with the UID will be a fool proof system.
INTERVIEWER: Can you explain further how that will be combined with the UID.
Speaker: Let us assume that everybody has a UID number. The particular survey - the SECC - throws up the list of people below the poverty line of whatever. Poverty line is a controversial thing, but poor households. And when it is combined with UID you can ensure that the benefits which are meant for these poor households would not be pilfered by any person who is not from a poor household.You cannot use a benami.
INTERVIEWER: Could you say something on the SECC. How is it being done what is its extent.
Speaker: SECC is a census operation. It is a decadal Census. You have a demographic census which has already complete. This is a follow-up of the Census operation, where they are looking at various socio-economic criteria of a household and based on that, the automatic exclusion and the automatic inclusion and deprivation index. So these three things will be calculated. That will all be done in the back-end. Right now what happens is at the field level they are collecting a lot of data. That data is being computerised at the field level as you might now. The computerization is done at the household.
INTERVIEWER: We heard that in fact that there is a state resident data hub being put together by the IT department. Seems that there are a lot of initiatives happening in this particular state. It is slightly mind-boggling: the extent of initiates. Do you think that the possibility of interoperable... There is the FSC data there are some major schemes like Arogyasri.
Speaker: I can only share with you one experience. In Andhra, the ration card is considered as something like a unique number, at leats until such time as the unique ID concept (starts functioning). Even now the unique ID is nowhere near completion. Before the unique id concept has come in, the ration card has always been taken as something like an identity. And Andhra ration cards have biometric details. They have got about 3-4 crores of iris (scans). It has also been de-duplicated. They have gone through the process of de-duplication, and they threw up all the matches. The matches have been verified and many of them have been deleted. So the ration card database of Andhra Pradesh, today is not only large but fairly clean. Again it doesn’t look at the targeting issue. But as far as identity issue is concerned I think it is fairly clear.
What we do is that, if you take the ration card as the connecter between databases, because almost everybody seems to be having a ration card number, it should be possible to merge these two databases. We have done it in the case of weaker section housing, in which again 72 lakh houses have been sanctioned in the state. So to ensure that there are no bogus or benami beneficiaries, we merged these two databases. It really gave us an enormous amount of insight into what are the types of irregularities that are happening on this.
INTERVIEWER: What is the weaker section housing database?
Speaker: Indiramma: it is 72 lakh houses that the government has sanctioned on the principal of saturation. On the principle that there shall be no kaccha house in the state. Which of course it has largely succeeded. But the combining of the databases has been possible because there has been a connecting field which is a ration card number.
Then we have another 70 lakh weaker section pensions, i.e. old age and widow pensions. So this database we are not trying to combine with the ration card database. Again taking the ration card number as the connector. So if that is the case then a lot of duplicates will be thrown out.
INTERVIEWER: That's not happened as yet with pensions...
Speaker: One level has happened. The problem was that when the pension data was collection the ration card numbers have not been collected in adequate numbers. So it was not considered at that time to be a very essential requirement, so it was not a mandatory field. So as a result we did not have adequate numbers. But i think that is something which is now come up.
Similarly in job cards and NEREGA we have 1.16 crores of job cards. Here again, of course the ration card database till recently was only 30% of the job cards and ration card database. A drive has been conducted to update this. So I think once you have at least one common field, it should be possible to combine the databases.
INTERVIEWER: Land records are something that we are exploring. In Kurnool we went to the NIC structure but that is a central structure.
Speaker: With land records, my knowledge maybe dated. But the land record computerization has been done but it has not been updated. The problem with the land record computerization is that it is not an accurate database. It is a database that has been created, but updating happens on a yearly basis that has not been done religiously.
As a result much of the data is dated. That only adds to the complexity of not having a ration card number or some unique number to compare.
INTERVIEWER: We went to some of the e-sava kendras. There are a series of services that they are offering. Are those now autonomous services or is there an interoperable mechanism that is planned. Electricity bill payments, phone payments. I think they also do updating and cleaning up of ration card data. If you want to change you name they have a facility of doing that. There are 9-10 services of that kind. The AP Online, will that then be integrated into the system?
Speaker: I don’t think that is one of the purposes of e-seva. So e-seva is basically citizen service centres where anybody can get things done. But yes, as and when there is a transaction done though e-seva they are creating a database, it should be possible to link them up. But I don’t know the purpose there.
The point is we are really not trying to x-ray a citizen. That is not the purpose of the entire UID experience. The UID, as you are rightly saying, is the interoperability of various databases so that certain citizen services can become available without hassle. Or, in the implementation of government schemes. pilferage could be reduced.
INTERVIEWER: On that count we are also informed in some sense the AP State Wide Area Network is not there at the mandal level.
Speaker: It is there, not they have completed. It was going on for the past three years, it now completed. So the broadband connectivity is available in all mandals. But you see the horizontal connectivity has to be something that is... they have taken it up to the mandal level - from there the horizontal connectivity to the offices which are the main users - that has to be done.
INTERVIEWER: Once that is done, basically services will be available online right? And this AP State Wide Area Network is then linking databases which are at different state data centres. How does the architecture work?
Speaker: AP is a network it a broadband-plus, broadband-plus-plus sort of a network, which allows connectivity from any of the state server to the district level server. Transmission of data will become much faster.
I think beyond this I am not aware if there is any plan to connect all the servers and create a data and I don’t think that it is a part of their immediate mandate.
As I said the basic thing is that to combine databases you require at least common data fields.
INTERVIEWER: To what extent the availability of credit an issue for rural development.
Speaker: It is everything about credit because I think if you ensure credit availability obviously there is lot of enterprise.
INTERVIEWER: If you look, the earlier insistence seems to have been in more in terms of providing subsided food. Maybe some kind of services like primary health and so on. Is the focus now shifting as far as the government is concerned - at the ground level you might see a lot of expenditure going into food or other kind subsidies - is the government now thinking very differently about the issues more in terms of making credit the number one priority or is it an additional priority.
Speaker: We have a live example in front of us. The AP rural poverty alleviation project which is a World Bank sponsored project under which 10 lakh SHGs have been formed with almost 1 crore households coming under that. I think that has really brought a paradigm shift in the way that we look at poverty. So the traditional thinking is that the government has to give subsidy.
The entire SHG movement of Andhra which is called Indira Kranti Patham actually abhors subsidy: where there is no subsidy at all. All that it says is that there are a lot of enterprises, there are a lot of opportunities. You allow free flow of credit. For the first time with the help of NARBAD we made a breakthrough by bringing what is called the SHG-bank linkage.
So that was in the late 90's. In 2000 at the break of the millennium we had something like 60 crores of SHG bank linkage, in that year. Last year we had 7000 crores. So the credit availability has gone up substantially and with that the poverty has also dropped with equal measure.
And then we have seen cases of very poor households which, once they got access to bank lending, started really looking up. Not only economically but also socially and educationally.
It has built up a lot of hope. And then the SHG moment has also shown that a substantial amount of social capital in terms of federation structure of SGHS. Lot of leadership is building up. So that’s a very invaluable social effect that we saw.
So a credit availability combined with building up of social capital is, I think, the real way out of poverty. Subsidies: the women don’t even ask for subsidy. They just want timely credit, affordable credit.
INTERVIEWER: You are absolutely right, but interestingly in Andhra what has happened in the last 6-7 years is that, alongside the SHG movement which has grown substantially from 60 crores to 7000 crores, if that is the kind of growth that has happened in exactly a decade - then simultaneously what has happened is an unprecedented level state welfare has almost become universally available. The kind of problems you had with getting ration cards, getting subsidised food stock (are now over): now everybody who wants it literally has a white card (and) has access to social welfare. While it certainly makes political sense to let that situation continue, is that a sustainable model. What are the figures looking like, and do you see it as sustainable model?
Speaker: It is definitely something which needs to be dissected, but the problem is that our ability to accurately assess the economic strength is something that we have always been suspicious of. Whenever the state tried to look at the economic strength of the people, I think it really miserably failed. Because again so many vested interest come and database has been completely tampered with.
So I think the existing system of the automatic exclusions and automatic inclusions possibly is a way out. Once you have that database available with the government, I am sure that all these untargeted subsidies will definitely be questioned. People are definitely questioning it.
INTERVIEWER: The figure of Rs 1 lakh per household is something that we have also heard in the last few days. People are giving that as a kind of rough estimate of the amount of credit that an average family can absorb, productively. This figure has also been cited by major political leaders. Is there a figure in terms of availability of credit that the government is working towards?
Speaker: You see credit cannot be supplied. When YSR was talking about Rs 1 lakh per household, he basically means that it is Rs one lakh income per household. It is not 1 lakh rupees of credit. It is not 1 lakh rupees of bank loan. That will be ridiculous. I don’t think that was every floated.
Basically the government was saying that every household in the SHG should achieve an income level of Rs 1 lakh per annum. We feel that, that is an objective that is achievable. As far as the credit absorption capacity is concerned, it varies from household to household. There are some people that might not require credit at all.
Like the entire community-managed systems in agriculture which is an organic agriculture initiative. It just doesn’t depend on credit at all. It just doesn’t need any credit because you bring down the cost of cultivation so much that your dependence on external agencies will come down, whether it is financial or pesticides etc. it comes down substantially.
So I am totally averse to looking at any targeted approach towards credit availability. It should be demand driven, and the demand should be effective demand. It should a demand for a loan for which he can service. Service it by investing that money and generating cash flows which could service that debit. This is a fundamental test.
INTERVIEWER: Health and education. This is very widely known that no matter what results we see, health is one of the areas where the loan has been utilized. At least a potion of it. While Arogyashri has been a key move in the direction of making good quality health services available, and perhaps also in some instances reducing the burden on the family, my question is: what kind of support mechanism is coming in, in the changed scenario, where we see government schools not receive the kind of investment that they ought to be. And so, as part of the plan of the SHG driven financing of need, are health and education being considered at all as areas where innovative funding...
Speaker: Absolutely. You see one of the main demands from our women is that you should float separate credit products for education. Health of course is always an emergency lending. So we have the Srinidhi Society which Mr. Ananth will be able to tell you in some detail, is primarily an intervention which could service unforeseen emergencies. As far as education is concerned, people are openly asking for credit. Banks would really need to look at that.
Because some of the SHG's have also started what is called 'Education Savings' and 'Health Savings'. That means that they anyway save Rs.100 a month apart from that another Rs.10 is used for education. So they are trying to create a fund. There are some mandals that you can even see where they have created a fund for education of the children. And certain amount of matching contribution has come from the state government. State government means through that project, the World Bank project.
But these are ad-hoc. I think finally the banking system will have to look at the credit requirements of the SHG's and then carve out separate credit instruments that would look at their agricultural needs, their educational needs, and maybe things like marriage loans. These are all things: marriage, education and health. Three reasons why they go down.
INTERVIEWER: One of the things that in Kurnool that we were constantly being told off-the-record was that SHG infrastructure has primarily benefitted the MFI's. Because as they have as it were..
Speaker: They have piggy backed on the SHG infrastructure. Because they are in a hurry to make as much money as they could. So creating a group and then developing a group dynamics is time consuming and difficult process. So here it is something like cooked food. They just come and eat. That is the kind of philosophy that they use.
INTERVIEWER: Whereas the actions of the SHGs can be seriously opposed and objected to. It seems to demonstrate the need for aditional credit - and we have actually met government officials that have admitted this - the need for additional credits or demand for credit which is not being met through existing channels.
Speaker: That is why the Srinidhi. The entire concept of the Srinidhi cooperative society has come out of the unmet effective demand for credit. So that has been estimated to be around 2000-3000 crores. That is apart from the SHG-bank linking which continues to be the prime lending source.
So that is where the cooperative society came and in the early stages of the programme.
INTERVIEWER: We have asked in Kurnool as well. Where can one get some broad baseline data about welfare schemes at state level sort of implementation process. If there possibility that one could tap into an online or offline source.
Speaker: Welfare scheme is a very broad thing. That means the whole government, virtually. If you are interested in looking at any particular segment then yes, database should be available.
INTERVIEWER: Obviously these three. The health scheme that came in, the housing scheme.
Speaker: Arogasri is a central server so you can take it. And SHG-bank linkages that you can take and the Srinidhi centres. You will get data if you are very clear as to what is that you want. Database is available. The inter-operability of this database is still not done.
INTERVIEWER: This SECC, this particular Census is this being done as part of the National Population Register? Is this is a standalone operation?
Speaker: It takes off from the NPR. The NPR images are copied into this and the teams go and check the socio-economic and caste status of each household.
INTERVIEWER: So this is not the Caste census?
Speaker: It’s the same, the SECC. It’s the Socio-Economic and Caste Census.
INTERVIEWER: Is methodology the same across India?
Speaker: Yes across India.
INTERVIEWER: To what extent has it been done in India?
Speaker: We are in the second day. We have just started on the 1980. It will take 40 days and after that another 20 days for processing that data. If the data is correct. I am still keeping my fingers crossed. If the data is correct then we should be able to very confidently say who are the poor. First you have to define what is the poverty line.
In this SECC you don't have a poverty line. This entire controversy of Rs.32 and Rs.60 is not there. What it basically says is that the number of poor in every state is fixed by the Suresh Tendulkar’s committee: the first stage. From the first stage you arrive at the numbers. Suppose your state has let us say has 1,00,000 poor households, so out of the hundred thousand, about five thousand are automatic inclusion cases. So the rest of the 95% will be selected by organising the households in the descending order of the deprivation points.
There are seven deprivation criteria that has been given. A household that has 7 deprivations will be number one. So like that it will be organised in the descending order. So you draw the cut off where this 95 thousand has been reached.
INTERVIEWER: The automatic section points are basically Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes...
Speaker: Automatic selection is basically for the destitutes. Primarily people who are homeless. Two-three criteria. Automatic exclusion is something you will know.
Then the 7 deprivation criteria are also depending on who is the head of the household. What is the nature of the household.
INTERVIEWER: Released bonded labour etc.
Speaker: Yes, that is the other automatic inclusion.
INTERVIEWER: One question on the UIDAI. They have told us that the state government is usually given the mandate of selection of the Registrars within the districts in the state. Our query was around the selection of the RGI as a registrar in certain part of Andhra Pradesh and we wanted to know on what basis was RGI selected in Kurnool versus the other districts as registrars for the Aadhaar.
Speaker: RGI is the registrar because he is in charge of the database for the entire country.
INTERVIEWER: If RGI is already conducting the NPR exercise and getting a set of data from that exercise which even Aadhaar is getting - where the data sets are complimentary in a way - the question is why is not that NPR then the registrar for the entire state or the country. Why is the reach not that high and why is it being specific to certain districts?
Speaker: That's a good question. The point is that the Aadhaar exercise is much beyond what the RGI usually does. We are collecting a set of database, that is fine. But primarily what differentiates it is the biometric component.
You have to take the entire finger biometric. You have to take the iris biometric and then you have to connect it to a central server. And then de-duplicate. And then generate the UID number. This process is special by its own merit. RGI doesn’t do this. RGI has a lot of data. To that extent he knows who is what, but you have to through with this entire process of biometric things.
So the feeling was that whether it is the banks or the rural development department, PDS or the RGI. Let everybody identify certain areas and then concentrate on mobilizing people to this biometric identification or Aadhaar centres.
So it is a stupendous task I think, because to get the whole lot. I think Andhra crossed about a crore and half Adhaar enrollments. But we are still far away. We are thinking that by 31st March everybody will have an Aadhaar number. It would require a sustained effort if we have to reach it by 31st.
INTERVIEWER: So the other question around Aadhaar was basically, when we spoke to State Bank of India. They were saying that a certain amount of KYR Plus data which they take, this data doesn’t need to be shared with the government. It can be kept by the registrar of the state. I mean, if it is not like a government agency and if it is like a bank. Then the data that they collect can be keep it for their own use and not necessarily share it with the state government. And now we seem to get the understanding that they have mandated in some sense to share it with the...
Speaker: The KYR Plus fields have been identified after due discussion among the various stake holders. The idea is that if you have KYR Plus and integrate it with the UID. Then the question of interoperability, for example, the NREG job card number is one of the fields which have been kept on the KYR Plus. The idea is that once you have the UID cards then you can check out which are the bogus job cards.
So obviously sharing of the data is the one of the fundamentals of KYR Plus. It is different from KYC.
INTERVIEWER: So you are basically looking at the implementation of the UID? Or the effectiveness of the UID?
Speaker: We were trying to look at the eco-system of governance. The new structures that are arising and weather the UID is actually successful in bring this entire mechanism in place.
We have been to many states in the country and we are trying to identify which issues, socially speaking, have facilitated the entry of the UID in terms of the governance structures. We find that in district levels and certainly at state levels this eco-system is varying drastically from state to state in this country.
For example we looked in Himachal at migrants. In Delhi we actually looked at the homeless because they are actually registering the homeless. Here we want to focus on financial inclusion. Because the credit question we feel is the leading place.
Speaker: As per the pink papers. Not necessarily..
INTERVIEWER: There is a very long history.
Speaker: The sort of financial inclusion the state of Andhra has achieved is unparalleled for the fact that the vast majority of people through the SGH network got connected to the bank and actually drew the money. Opening a no-frill account is not a wishy-washy thing.
They have actually accessed bank funds.
INTERVIEWER: What happens in India is that over the decades where a new technology comes in there is a utopian hope. That somehow new technology will solve all societal problems. The question is in fact that existing forms of social inclusion will probably translate into digital social exclusion. Do you think there is such a possibility? What do you see the kind of road blocks towards the digitization of governance, you might say broadly. Because there are obviously various kinds of social inequalities. Will they carry forward into the digital domain?
Speaker: It should not. The penetration of the digital knowledge is still in the urban and peri-urban areas. But I think in Andhra we will definitely see a change.
I think in the next 4-5 years is going to be really very different. The Andhra of 2000 and the Andhra of today is completely different. Digitization has made a lot of difference as far the efficiency of implementation is concerned. But I think the next 4-5 years is really going to percolate down to the people.
Mobile technologies for example will really make a lot of difference in the way people will look at the government. And implementation of the government.
INTERVIEWER: Like everything that we have now is essentially being built into fingerprint biometrics so down the line, though UID connects the retina and the finger prints, like the point of sale and the point of distribution, it often doesn’t work, especially for those who do hard manual labour. The whole delivery mechanism actually depends on that.
Speaker: It’s a risky thing but what we found is that the rejections by the POS were very high in the initial states. There were almost 10% variations at one stage now it has come down to less than 1%.
That is because the quality of the devices has also increased. And we enroll all the 10 fingers not one or two. Earlier they were doing about 4 fingers. Now we do all 10. Rejection rate is substantially less. I think as more and more... this particular model goes down further I am sure the efficacy of the technology will also increase.
Speaker: Where all have you been.
INTERVIEWER: Two things happened. One that we started out with the first phase of studying the UID we were simply trying to understand how it was working. We were just going to different locations with the partnership of the authority itself and they put us in touch with their assistants to give us access to their enrollments and their registers. We went and met operators and then we went and saw all the enrollment works.
What problems there were and things like that. Now we want to go beyond that particular stuff. We can see Aadhaar as really, if you like, in the end after its work is done only a footnote to a much larger picture. Aadhaar is not the whole story, Aadhaar is just the facilitator to a very big change in the very concept of governance.
It is not only a change, one argues, it is not only a change in the methodology of governance it is a foundation change in what governance itself is. For instance, the ideas of subsidies being an FMI. These new ideas of governance that have been emerging. It is a possibility of new technologies going alongside new definitions of governance. Which are going alongside new ideas of entitlements and new definitions of rights as it were so.
The triad between governance, technology and rights something we want to explore. We want to deep field work in trying to understand the complete eco-system of a district. The whole district that we were tentatively looking at was Kurnool. So we did a fair bit of initial work. We want to come back again just as a case study.
Speaker: Anantapur will be a better district I feel.
INTERVIEWER: Why would you sat that?
Speaker: Two reasons. One is that it is definitely more backward and more reflective of... Kurnool has a lot of black cotton soil and has a fair amount of irrigated area. Anantapur is more representative of a poor district or Mehboob Nagar. In Anantapur you will see the mature SHG groups that have been there for the last 20 years. There is a lot of NGO activity.
INTERVIEWER: One question, the idea of e-districts in one of the National e-governance programmes. One thing is that Andhra does not have a single designated e-district.
Speaker: I can’t really... The largest number of e-governance projects running are here. But maybe I don’t know nobody has looked at the e-district.
INTERVIEWER: Because originally our thought was to look at the particular economically deprived e-districts. But we were also keen on this state and working here.
Speaker: Maybe there is a fair amount of centralization of the programme implementation. By centralization I don’t mean the central government. Maybe be at the state level for example, the housing programme, pensions programme, or NREGA. Much of it the architecture revolves under a state server. So e-governance system of NREGA takes away that much of it calling it an e-district it is a e-state in a way. Major programmes are all controlled from the state. Not a good thing but that how it has evolved in Andhra.