"Why we oppose the rush to cash transfers and UID"

Academics and activists like Jean Dreze, Jayati Ghosh, Prabhat Patnaik, Nivedita Menon and others make their stand clear

GN Bureau | January 7, 2013

Here is the text signed by more than 200 civil society activists and academics:

We support cash transfers such as old age pensions, widow pensions, maternity entitlements and scholarships. In fact, many of us have been part of struggles to expand social security pensions and improve their delivery. We also support appropriate, people-friendly uses of modern technology for this purpose.

However, we have serious reservations about the government's rush to link these cash transfers to “Aadhaar”, the unique identity (UID) number. This is because the linking of these schemes can cause huge disruption – think of an old man who is currently getting his pension from the local post office, but will now have to run around getting his “UID-enabled” bank account activated and then may find his pension held up by fingerprints problems, connectivity issues, power failures, truant “business correspondents”, and what not.

We are also firmly opposed to the introduction of cash transfers in lieu of food and other commodities supplied through the Public Distribution System, for many reasons. One, subsidized food from the PDS is a source of food and economic security for millions of poor families. In 2009-10, implicit transfers from the PDS wiped out about one fifth of the “poverty gap” at the national level, and close to one half of it in states like Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh. Recent experience also shows that it is possible to further revamp and reform the PDS without delay.

Two, the banking system in rural areas is not ready to handle large volumes of small transfers. Banks are often far and overcrowded. The alleged solution, banking correspondents, is fraught with problems. Post offices could possibly be converted into useful payment agencies, but this will take time.

Three, rural markets are often poorly developed. Dismantling the PDS would disrupt the flow of food across the country and put many people at the mercy of local traders and middlemen.

Four, there are concerns of special groups such as single women, disabled persons and the elderly who cannot easily move around to withdraw their cash and buy food from distant markets.

Last but not least, inflation could easily erode the purchasing power of cash transfers. When the government refuses to index pensions or NREGA wages, how can it be trusted to index cash transfers to the price level? Even if some indexation does happen, small delays or gaps in price information could cause significant hardship for poor people.

The Kotkasim fiasco is a telling example of the potentially disruptive effects of inappropriate cash transfer schemes. The experiment was launched with much fanfare and immediately projected as a “stunning success” based on the fact that kerosene subsidy expenditure had declined by 80%, but in fact, the main reason for this decline was the collapse of the entire kerosene distribution system.

An impression has been created that the government is all set to launch UID-enabled cash transfers on a mass scale before the 2014 elections. This is very misleading, and looks like an attempt to make people rush to UID enrolment centres. This announcement also diverts attention from the government’s failure to enact a National Food Security Act. The food security bill, very weak in the first place, has been languishing with a Standing Committee for a whole year. Meanwhile, food stocks are accumulating on an unprecedented scale. The need of the hour is a comprehensive National Food Security Act, not a potentially disruptive rush for UID-driven cash transfers.

Cash Transfers and UID: Essential Demands

We support cash transfers such as old age pensions, widow pensions, maternity entitlements and scholarships. However, we oppose the government’s plan for accelerated mass conversion of welfare schemes to UID-driven cash transfers. This plan could cause havoc and massive social exclusion. We demand the following:

1. No replacement of food with cash under the Public Distribution System.

The PDS is a vital source of economic security and nutrition support for millions of people. It should be expanded and consolidated, not dismantled.

2. Immediate enactment of a comprehensive National Food Security Act, including universal PDS.

Instead of diverting the public’s attention with promises of mass cash transfers before the 2014 elections, the government should redeem its promise to enact a National Food Security Act (NFSA).

3. Cash transfers should not substitute for public services.

While some cash transfer schemes are useful, they should complement, not substitute for the provision of public services such as health care, school education, water supply, basic amenities, and the PDS. These services remain grossly under-funded.

4. Expand and improve appropriate cash transfers without waiting for UID.

There is no need to wait for UID to expand and improve positive cash transfer schemes such as pensions, scholarships and maternity entitlements. For instance, social security pensions should be increased and universalized.

5. No UID enrolment without a legal framework.

Millions of people are being enrolled for UID without any legal safeguards. The UIDAI’s draft bill has been rejected by a parliamentary standing committee. UID enrolment should be halted until a sound legal framework is in place.

6. All UID applications should be voluntary, not compulsory.

UID should never be a condition for anyone to access any entitlements or public services. A convenient alternative should always be available.

7. UID should be kept out of the PDS, NREGA and other essential entitlement programmes for the time being.

Essential services are not a suitable field of experimentation for a highly centralised and uncertain technology. Other applications (e.g. to tax evasion) should be tried first.

List of Signatories
1.               Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society
2.               Pushpa Achanta, Writer
3.               Bina Agarwal, Professor, Institute of Economic Growth
4.               Samantha Agarwal, Activist, Raipur
5.               Ankita Aggarwal, Researcher, New Delhi
6.               Ashutosh Agrawal, Student
7.               Anivar Aravind, Entrepreneur, Technology Manager
8.               Chirashree Das Gupta, Ambedkar University
9.               Indu Agnihotri, Director, Centre for Women’s Development Studies
10.           Sohail Akbar, Associate Professor, Jamia Milia Islamia
11.           Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, United Theological College Bangalore
12.           Janki Andharia, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
13.           Sadhna Arya, University of Delhi and Saheli Women's Resource Centre
14.           K.V. Nagesh Babu, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
15.           Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Vice Chancellor, Tripura University
16.           Megha Bahl Student, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi
17.           Arindam Banerjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University
18.           Arindam Banerjee, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University
19.           Sreshtha Banerjee, Social Activist
20.           Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati)
21.           Kripa Basnyat, PWESCR, Programme on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
22.           Moushumi Basu, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
23.           Akansha Batra, Junior Research Fellow, Indian Statistical Institute
24.           Anjali Bhardwaj, Satark Nagrik Sangathan
25.           Bharat Bhatti, Student, Ambedkar University
26.           Kiran Bhatty, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
27.           Praful Bidwai, Journalist
28.           Ramila Bisht, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
29.           Arudra Burra
30.           Kathyayini Chamaraj, Journalist
31.           C.P. Chandrashekhar, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
32.           Sarika Chaturvedi, Ph D scholar, Karolinska Institute, Sweden
33.           Aheli Chowdhury, JOSH, Delhi
34.           Arati Choksi, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Bangalore
35.           Gowru Chinnapa, Bangalore
36.           Priti Darooka, PWESCR, Programme on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
37.           Jitu Das, Alghanim Industries
38.           Asit Das
39.           Anirban Dasgupta, South Asia University
40.           Jashodhara Dasgupta, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights
41.           Saurav Datta
42.           Ashwini Deshpande, Professor, Delhi School of Economics
43.           Ritu Dewan, Mumbai University
44.           Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
45.           Harish Dhawan, Associate Professor in Economics, University of Delhi
46.           Arundhati Dhuru, National Alliance of People’s Movements
47.           Gabriele Dietrich, National Alliance of People's Movements
48.           Sarah Dobinson, PWESCR Programme on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
49.           Jean Drèze, Visiting Professor, Allahabad University
50.           Ajit Eapen
51.           Warisha Farasat, Lawyer
52.           Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
53.           Kaveri Gill, Independent researcher
54.           S. S. Gill,  Director General, CRRID, Chandigarh
55.           Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Journalist
56.           Aashish Gupta, Research Assistant, Allahabad University
57.           Ruchi Gupta, National Campaign for People's Right to Information
58.           Zoya Hasan, Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
59.           Neeraj Hatekar, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Mumbai
60.           Rohini Hensman, Independent scholar and author
61.           Himanshu, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
62.           Danish Husain, Actor
63.           Indira C, Researcher Public Health, Delhi
64.           Kaveri Rajaraman Indira, Concern, Indian Institute of Science
65.           Jaya Iyer, Khadya Nyaya Abhiyan
66.           Devaki Jain
67.           K.P. Jayasankar, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
68.           Praveen Jha, Jawaharlal Nehru University
69.           Sadan Jha, Assistant Professor, Centre for Social Studies, Surat
70.           Ravinder Jha, Miranda House, University of Delhi
71.           Rajiv Jha, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi
72.           Amrita Johri, Satark Nagrik Sangathan
73.           Sunny Jose, Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
74.           Aleesha Mary Joseph, Student, St. Stephen's College
75.           Deep Joshi
76.           Vijay Lakshmi Joshi, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
77.           K. P. Kannan, Chairman, Lawry Baker Institute of Habitat Studies, Thiruvantanthapuram
78.           Anirban Kar, Associate Professor, Delhi School of Economics
79.           Ashok Khandelwal, Economist
80.           Madhulika Khanna, Researcher, New Delhi
81.           Sushil Khanna, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
82.           Reetika Khera, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
83.           Asha Kilaru, Public Health Researcher, Bangalore
84.           Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh
85.           Subasri Krishnan, Filmmaker
86.           Kavita Krishnan, CPI(ML) Liberation
87.           Abhay Kumar, Karnataka
88.           Richa Kumar, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
89.           Awanish Kumar, Ph.D. Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
90.           Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements
91.           A.K. Shiva Kumar, Economist
92.           Lawrence Liang, Alternative Law Forum
93.           Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Advocate
94.           Neeraj Malik, University of Delhi
95.           Anubhuti Maurya, Bharati College, University of Delhi
96.           Surajit Mazumdar
97.           Indrani Mazumdar, Centre for Women's Development Studies
98.           Bhanwar Meghvanshi, Dalit Adivasi Aur Ghumantu Adhikar Abhiyan, Rajasthan
99.           Subhash Mendhapurkar, SUTRA, Himachal Pradesh
100.       Aggie Menezes, Associate Professor, St Xavier's College
101.       Mira Mehta, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland
102.       Kalpana Mehta, Manasi Swasthya Sansthan, Indore
103.       Ritambhara Mehta, Independent Researcher
104.       Nivedita Menon, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
105.       Rajkishore Mishra, Orissa
106.       Srijith Mishra, Associate Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
107.       Gautam Mody, Secretary, New Trade Union Initiative
108.       Mritiunjoy Mohanty, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
109.       Sanat Mohanty, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
110.       Anjali Monteiro, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
111.       Vipul Mudgal, Inclusive Media for Change, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
112.       Prakriti Mukerjee, Yoda Press
113.       Poonam Muttreja, Population Foundation of India
114.       Tithi Nandy, Healthwatch Forum Uttar Pradesh
115.       R. Nagaraj, Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
116.       Farah Naqvi, Writer and Activist
117.       Sudha Narayanan, Assistant Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
118.       Rajendran Narayanan, Visiting Scientist, Indian Statistical Institute
119.       Arvind Narrain, Alternative Law Forum
120.       Saboohi Nasim, Assistant Professor, Aligarh Muslim University
121.       Balaji Narsimhan
122.       Nandini Nayak, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London
123.       P. Niranjana, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
124.       V.P. Niranjanaradhya, National Law School of India University
125.       Claire Noronha, Collaborative Research and Dissemination
126.       Madhurima Nundy, Institute of Chinese Studies
127.       Gangaram Paikra, Right to Food Campaign, Chhattisgarh
128.       Parthapratim Pal, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
129.       Sandeep Pandey, National Alliance of People’s Movements
130.       Soma Kishore Parthasarathy, PhD scholar, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
131.       Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People’s Movements
132.       Prabhat Patnaik, Retired Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
133.       Utsa Patnaik, Retired Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
134.       Boban V. Paul, NGO professional
135.       Pamela Philipose, Director, Women’s Features Services
136.       Neetha Pillai, Senior Fellow, Centre for Women's Development Studies
137.       Dr Prabir, Independent Consultant, West Bengal
138.       Pranesh Prakash, Law and Policy Researcher
139.       Mythri Prasad, Researcher, French Institute of Pondicherry
140.       T. V. H. Prathamesh, Research Scholar, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
141.       Raghav Puri, Independent Researcher
142.       Pushpendra, Director, Centre for Social Studies, Surat
143.       Kalyani Raghunathan, Ph.D. Scholar, Cornell University
144.       Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women
145.       Jawahar Raja, Advocate, Delhi
146.       Suvrat Raju, Reader, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Mumbai
147.       R. Ramakumar, Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
148.       Kannama Raman, Associate Professor, University of Mumbai
149.       Usha Ramanathan, Legal Researcher
150.       Ashish Ranjan, Birla Institute of Technology, Patna
151.       Bharat Rastogi, Graduate student, University of California Santa Barbara
152.       Savitri Ray, FORCES Network, Centre for Women’s Development Studies
153.       Mohan Rao, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
154.       E. Rati Rao, People’s Union for Civil Liberties Karnataka
155.       Vidya Rao, Jain Vishva Bharati Institute, Rajasthan
156.       D. Narsimha Reddy, Chair Professor, NIRD, Hyderabad
157.       Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, Economic and Political Weekly
158.       Dr. K. Srinath Reddy
159.       Ira Regmi, Student, Lady Shri Ram College for Women
160.       Rohit, Assistant Professor, South Asia University
161.       Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
162.       Saheli Women's Resource Centre Sahyogi, Patna
163.       Preeti Sampat, Independent Researcher
164.       Meera Samson, Collaborative Research and Dissemination
165.       Sunil D. Santha, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
166.       Radha Kant Saxena, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
167.       Sukla Sen, EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity), Mumbai
168.       S. Seshan
169.       Sudeshna Sengupta, Mobile Crèches
170.       Mitu Sengupta, Centre for Human Development and Human Rights, New Delhi
171.       Prem Krishan Sharma, President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan
172.       Saurabh Sharma, JOSH, Delhi
173.       Veena Shatrugna, Former Deputy Director, National Institute of Nutrition
174.       Jeevika Shiv
175.       Dr. Mira Shiva, Initiative for Health & Equity in Society
176.       Rama Shyam, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
177.       Aditya Shrivastava, Advocate
178.       Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
179.       Bhanwar Singh, Astha
180.       Mahipal Singh, National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
181.       Paramjeet Singh, People’s Union for Democratic Rights
182.       Surjit Singh, Director, Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur
183.       Dipa Sinha, Ph.D. Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
184.       Shantha Sinha, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights
185.       Ahmed Sohaib, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association
186.       Gautam Sonti
187.       Vivek Srinivasan, Stanford University
188.       Nisha Srivastava, University of Allahabad
189.       Ravi Srivastava, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
190.       Shambhavi Srivastava, Graduate student, University of British Columbia
191.       Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
192.       Sulakshana, Right to Food Campaign, Chhattisgarh
193.       Nandini Sundar, University of Delhi
194.       Mayur Suresh, Ph.D. Scholar, University of London
195.       V. Suresh, General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
196.       Kamayani Swami, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan
197.       Padmini Swaminathan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
198.       M.S. Swaminathan, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
199.       Sharmila Tagore
200.       Krishan Takhar, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
201.       Vamsi Vakulabharanam, Reader, University of Hyderabad
202.       Padma Velaskar, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
203.       G. Vijay, Assistant Professor, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad
204.       M. Vijayabaskar, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai
205.       Vimochana, Forum for Women’s Rights
206.       Achin Vanaik, Retired Professor, University of Delhi
207.       Sujata Visaria, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
208.       Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan



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