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Direct Bank Transfer social audit promise: Jharkhand govt on backfoot despite assurance to opposition rally

Anti-DBT March of February 26
By Our Representative
Despite the Jharkhand government's unusual "promise" that it would conduct a social audit of its Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) subsidy experiment during the month of March in the Nagri block of Ranchi district, nothing of the sort has happened, with indications emerging that it is dilly-dallying on the issue that is bothering large sections of the deprived people.
The promise was made following a Right to Food (RtF) Campaign finding, based on a survey of the DBT experiment, conducted in early February by student volunteers, and coordinated by well-known academic Jean Dreze and researcher Nazar Khalid, that beneficiaries had received only 2 out of 4 months’ DBT money during the preceding four months, and they had spent 12 hours per month withdrawing the money and buying their Public Distribution System (PDS) rations.
The survey alarmingly found that an overwhelming majority (97 per cent) of the respondents wanted the DBT experiment to be discontinued in favour of the old system of cheap rice at Re 1 per kg at the ration shop. Following the survey, on February 26, thousands of angry residents of Nagri took out a padyatra from Nagri to the Governor’s house in Ranchi, demanding the discontinuation of DBT.
RtF says in a note forwarded to Counterview, "Their demands, however, have fallen on deaf ears. The Jharkhand government got away with a vague promise of conducting a social audit of the Nagri DBT in March. However, this has not happened. As a result, the residents of Nagri continue to face extreme hardships, and many of them are deprived of their food rations."
Pointing out that "the worst affected are the most vulnerable – single women, the elderly, and disabled persons -- RtF has demanded that "an immediate discontinuation of the DBT pilot in Nagri, restoration of the earlier system of cheap rice at Re 1 per kg at the ration shop, and compensation for the victims of this illegal and unethical experiment."
Jean Dreze
Situated in the outskirts of Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, Nagri block was put under pilot project by the Jharkhand government in October 2017 before introducing DBT across the state. Instead of rice at Re 1 per kg at the ration shop, the PDS cardholders began being offered a subsidy (calculated at Rs 31.60 per kg) in their bank account, as they were to buy rice at the ration shop at Rs 32.60 per kg.
The survey had said, “They (beneficiaries) 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”, the survey had underlined, adding, “All this is in addition to the hassles of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA), rampant across Jharkhand.”
“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”, the survey had further said, 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.”

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