It was Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh who coined the slogan ‘Apna paisa, apne haath’, while unveiling the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) Scheme along with Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram. The scheme, Chidambaram had then explained, was almost entirely based on the UID Aadhaar coverage.
Now Jairam is wiser. He says the Aadhaar card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India headed by Nandan Nilekani, could become “an instrument of exclusion” of the real target group -- the poorest of poor in remote areas.
Speaking at a conference on Friday, Jairam said: “Unfortunately many of the beneficiaries of government programmes are outside the Aadhaar network. So you find that in a very large number of the districts... the Aadhaar coverage is much below the critical threshold of 75 to 80 per cent.”
In other words, the multi-crore project devised primarily to make provisions for direct cash transfer to the poor may not be working. By next year, 40 crore UID numbers are expected to be issued, while 31 crore of it have been provided so far.
Reports of Aadhaar coverage being marginal and also not a foolproof delivery system for welfare schemes have been there for a while. But the Congress has been banking entirely on the welfare schemes to turn around its political fortunes and counter the negative publicity.
The recent Naxal attack on Chhattisgarh Congress leaders has once again highlighted the deep-seated rural angst and the gap between the Centre’s policy initiatives and ground reality.
For Jairam, who has been one of the few union ministers making regular forays into the tribal belt, the May 25 incident must have come as wake-up call that the perceptions do not change with policy announcements in New Delhi unless they get translated into change in real terms at the grassroots level.
So, quite understandably on Friday, Jairam Ramesh held forth on the need to ensure that “lack of an Aadhaar number does not become an alibi of exclusion of the beneficiary”.
“‘If you do not have the Aadhaar number, you will not get the benefits’ -- We do not want this situation and this situation is very, very probable. One should never discount the probability of a local level functionary saying that since you do not have an Aadhaar number, you are not eligible,” Jairam said.