Usha Ramanathan
There is a range of ambitions riding on the UID project, and too many of them seem to lack the innocence that could keep us unworried. ‘Cash transfer’ is the most visible of these ambitions. This is contested terrain, peppered with debates around the wisdom or otherwise of the state withdrawing from taking responsibility for providing food or fuel or education or health; and the unwisdom or otherwise of bringing in the market while displacing the state where whole communities of people live lives rendered precarious by poverty and its concomitants.
Whichever side of the debate one is on, there is no denying that the minimum that is needed for cash transfer is a system in place which can deliver the cash. The acknowledged fact is that there
are hardly any banking services available to the poor.
In illustration, this is what Dr Deepali Pant Joshi, Executive Director, RBI said in a talk delivered on 4 May 2013: “Under the roadmap for providing banking outlets in villages with population above 2000, banking outlets have been opened in hitherto 74199 unbanked villages comprising 2493 branches, 69374 Business Correspondents (BCs) and 2332 through other modes like ATMs, mobile van, etc.” And: “As per the roadmap drawn about 4,84,000 villages with population less than 2,000 have been allotted to various banks. Provision of banking services are to be made in the next three years.”
And, again: “Business Correspondent model is still in the experimental stages and there are various challenges associated with the model. The viability of BC model has remained a critical issue. Surveys have revealed that branch officials do not visit BCs or customers and do not take any effort in introducing BCs to villagers. One primary reason cited by branch officials are the scarcity of staff provided to them for carrying out such visits to villages.
Further, most of the accounts opened by BCs have remained non-operational.”
These are just snippets from the speech indicating a remarkable state of unreadiness.
Yet, the Central government has pushed ahead with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) depending on banks, banking correspondents, the UID number and authentication ~ each of which is either severely deficient or deeply defective ~ and with no responsibility when any of this does not work.
But, then, in times when minimum wages, and the poverty line, are being reconstituted so that the poor can begin to disappear even as a statistic, these are words that need to be treated with some seriousness.
The interests of national security, and the terror threat, are presented as reasons why the state should have access to data about its people; and the more that is available to it, the better. That the state would want to track and tag individuals is hardly surprising. By now, the US and the UK have trained us to understand how secretively curious states are not just about people in their territory, but far beyond! This ambition, to know the individual intimately, when achieved, will leave him or her at the mercy of the state.
The false sense of security when the state says it wants the power to put people on watch so that they can be kept safe from terrorism, and crime, and immorality, and illegality is a way for the state to keep its hold on the polity.
The complete collapse of the criminal justice system, the waywardness of unsupervised intelligence agencies, and treating every person as a subject of surveillance to keep the country safe, is all part of the same universe.
(The writer is an academic activist. She has researched the UID and its ramifications since 2009.)