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Monday, August 3, 2020

Cashing on the cash


Direct cash transfer schemes are still quite perforated
Tags : Direct cash transfer | Subsidy | UID cards | Aadhaar |

After series of debates and arguments, over the decades, the incumbent government has finally realised the flaws of direct subsidy and thus announced their intentions of implementing direct cash transfers to the people. There is not even an iota of doubt that the subsidies were always vague in nature and rarely reach the actual beneficiaries, these are meant for. Most of the time, the subsidies meant for the bottom of the pyramid trickle up and reach to those who are at the top of the pyramid. There are innumerable examples of government employees and rich villagers carrying BPL cards and thus availing the benefits meant for the poor and needy popula. This is a major reason for the money collected as annual taxes from common Indians got redirected to the coffers of the rich and not for who it was collected from and the real poor. Eventually, the band of bottom of pyramid kept on widening and never saw any breakthrough. In spite of several economic measures, the gap between rich and poor never got bridged. Be it fertilizer subsidy, gas subsidy or oil subsidy, most of these services were majorly availed by those who had enough and by those who belonged to the upper category of haves and not by those who struggled as have-nots and are lingering in poverty!

After six decades of policy making, the policy makers adopted the globally practised direct cash transfer scheme. No doubt, this very scheme is million times better than the currently practised subsidy scheme. At least, the money paid by tax payers would reach the families. If one goes by global examples, cash transfers have helped many nations reach their target audience directly. For instance, a huge paradigm shift was brought in Sierra Leone through cash transfers to farmers with an intention of aiding them to purchase agricultural tools and inputs.

However, there are lot of misses between the cups and lips when it comes to implementation of the said policy. Firstly, there are still hundreds of villages where banking facility is not inclusive. As per the latest Census, merely 60 per cent of all households have access to banking services and the formal banking system. Still, more than 60 per cent of the rural population does not have bank account and only 25 per cent of rural dwellers uses banks for availing credit facility. In such a bleak scenario, direct cash transfers through bank transfers would fall flat. Thus the first and foremost challenge to the policy makers is to bring these villagers under the ambit of conventional banking system ensuring that every single individual has bank account. Moreover, there still exists a huge task of opening a bank account for all these villagers and even before that providing them with relevant documents (read: identity and address proofs) to do the same. Further, every village, through numerous channels, have to be educated about the benefits of banking system and thus have to be roped into the concept of ‘financial inclusion.’

The next issue with direct cash transfer is in the access to cash itself. Most of the households in villages are male dominated. In simple words, the financial decisions are sole proprietary of the males in the family. This would not only become victim of gender discrimination but also may dilute the very objective of cash transfer. It has been widely seen that if cash handling by men is quite skewed as compared to women. Even in NREGA schemes, the cash disbursed to workers are used more for household by women and more for alcohol and tobacco by men. In a classic case of Malawi (published in a paper titled, ‘Cash Transfers in the Context of Pro-Poor Growth’), it was found that “the value of cash transfers was undermined by the exceptional increase in maize prices during the 2001-2002 season: in May 2001, the monthly cash transfer purchased 70 kg of maize, but only 16 kg by February 2002. As a general lesson, cash transfers are likely to be inadequate in the absence of measures to address wider economic instability.” Going by various precedence, there is a huge probability of the money being used for anti-social and non-essential purposes. This may lead to alcohol abuses and other form of misuse and thus leading to incidences of domestic violence too.

The scheme on the hindsight looks quite promising, but then there are numerous perforations in its practicality and applicability. Thus to make it foolproof, along with widening the banking system and increasing financial inclusion, the policy-makers need to draft clauses that would ensure more judicial usage of hard-earned money.
Thus as solutions, cash can be disbursed in the form of debit card that can be swiped only for listed commodities at authorized outlets or there should be applied mechanism to ensure relevant usage of the money. This will solve two purposes. One it will keep track on prices charged by the traders and would keep checks on dummy transactions. Even remittance slips can be offered which can be used as cash coupons or promissory notes (in lieu of currency, like Sodexo passes) at any outlet. These two steps are obviously not a foolproof steps but will put a capping on misuse of funds and above all provide government with more time to make the policy better and educate people on importance of savings and proper investments. Else it will get reduced to a vote bank politics in the veil of populist agendas, as always.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017