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97% don't want Direct Bank Transfer for food from ration shop, 25% didn't receive cash, says Jharkhand survey

Jharkhand officials "testing" biometric system for PDS
By Our Representative
A recent survey, carried out by student volunteers in the Nagri block in the outskirts of Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, has found that a huge 97% of the sample households have opposed Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) against the subsidies they should be getting by using the public distribution (PDS) system ration shops. The survey was coordinated by well-known academic Jean Dreze  and researcher Nazar Khalid.
The survey follows the October 2017 decision of the Jharkhand Government to introduce DBT as a pilot project for PDS in Nagri. Instead of rice at Re 1 per kg at the ration shop, the PDS cardholders are being offered a subsidy (calculated at Rs 31.60 per kg) in their bank account, as they are to buy rice at the ration shop at Rs 32.60 per kg.
If this pilot succeeds, the Jharkhand government had announced, it would extend it across the state.
Bringing this to light, Right to Food (RTF), a Jharkhand-based campaign organization, said, “Their unhappiness – indeed anger – with the DBT system is not hard to understand. In January 2018, about 25% of cardholders did not receive the cash.”
It added, “Even those who get money face many hurdles. Many households do not know which of their bank accounts is being credited with DBT money. The sample households had 3.5 bank accounts on average.”
RTF stated, quoting from the survey, “They are often constrained to make multiple trips to the bank to find out if the money has come, as most of them do not receive SMS alerts. Some banks even disallow cardholders from withdrawing money (claiming that the amounts are too small), forcing them to make further trips to the local Pragya Kendra or banking correspondents, where they often have to pay bribes.”
“The entire process leads to a huge waste of time and money for the cardholders. It is especially cumbersome for the elderly, the disabled, and those who find it difficult to take time off work”, it underlined.
Jean Dreze, Nazar Khalid
In a statement, RTF underscored, “All this is in addition to the hassles of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA), rampant across Jharkhand. ABBA applies at the Pragya Kendra and ration shop. It is far from clear what purpose DBT serves when ABBA is in place at the ration shop.”
“PDS dealers, too, are inconvenienced by the DBT system as they now have to spend much more time to distribute grain and have to handle about Rs 4-5 lakh worth of cash every month”, it added.
Nagri, said RTF, is the latest in a series of unsuccessful DBT pilots, adding, “As per Niti Ayog’s surveys of DBT pilots in Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, this system is more expensive to access PDS entitlements. These surveys also found that over time a small proportion of cardholders stopped receiving the cash subsidy.”
“While these pilots allowed cardholders to buy food items from the market, in Nagri people were restricted to purchasing grain from the PDS shop”, RTF said, adding, “A DBT pilot also failed in Kasba block of Purnia district (Bihar), though further details of this experiment are not available.”
The DBT “failure” acquires significance, as Jharkhand has amongst the highest levels of hunger and undernutrition in the country, and PDS is the lifeline for many rural households, RTF said, adding,” It may be recalled that lakhs of ration cards not linked with Aadhaar were deleted in Jharkhand last year.”
Significantly, in the last five months, seven starvation deaths were reported in Jharkhand. Five of them were due to the mandatory integration of PDS with Aadhaar.
Meanwhile, several civil society organizations, in alliance with some political parties, have decided to hold a padyatra from Nagri to Ranchi on February 26 to demand the discontinuation of the DBT pilot. The political parties to join the protest include Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (ML), Indian National Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha.

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