Amidst the political uncertainty, there are doubts about the future of the Aadhaar-enabled Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme. The scheme, hailed as a game-changer by the UPA government, ran into trouble recently with the Supreme Court ruling that the government cannot deny a rightful beneficiary any services or payments by making Aadhaar mandatory. The Court’s ruling was welcome—Aadhaar, in its present form, needs significant corrections to overcome shortcomings in its legal mandate, division of responsibilities and liabilities, etc. The Congress manifesto, while showing its commitment to the programme and the Aadhaar platform, does not go into the details of ensuring implementation. Meanwhile, it is hardly surprising that the BJP manifesto is completely silent on Aadhaar, as well as on the DBT. It does however have an overall emphasis on technology-enabled governance, transparency and cleaning up the system. While it aims at digitisation of government records, it looks at mandating “digitisation of all government work.” So, even with the BJP, we are looking at
a technology-based solution for benefits transfer.
What does the effective implementation of electronic transfer of benefits call for? To ensure that a beneficiary gets full benefits in a timely, secure manner, at the first instance, each beneficiary needs to have an unique identity recorded. This identity has to be tied to the biometrics of the person and the information has to be stored on a central digital database that can be accessed by any disbursing agent. When a beneficiary approaches the disbursement point, the agency has to have the necessary infrastructure for authentication of the beneficiary’s identity and disburse the benefit amount. Further, to ensure that there are no leakages, the databases of the numerous schemes need to be cleaned and de-duplicated so that one person alone receives what is due. This forms the basics of any successful programme that aims at delivering benefits electronically. Aadhaar provides such a platform. So, what has gone wrong? Why does the programme look so bereft?
Electronic transfers of benefits have been under discussion since the early 2000s, even during the NDA regime. The idea of a smart card had been mooted as an effective tool to plug leakages in disbursements in 2002; the tenth Five-Year-Plan had proposed a pilot for smart cards for PDS and a working group was set up for the eleventh Five-Year-Plan to examine an integrated smart card system. This group specifically recommended “using a unique