( All characters and incidents, referred in this piece are fictional)
The rural India, today is governed by the urban technocratic mindset which is not always very helpful and often dangerous. While we often relate under development to the lack of awareness among the rural communities, the truth is the urban awareness on rural lifestyle and culture is negligible and the urban mindsets which formulate and govern the rural policies often go wrong, because of this lack of knowledge.
Suppose, a group of urban educated administrator’s and consultants, sitting at New Delhi decide that from now on the food ration will be replaced by cash transfers and the same will be done through the Adhar based direct benefit transfer. The logic looks quite simple and absolutely fool proof. This they are are doing to deal with the recent reports of people being routinely denied of their full entitlements. They came to know that ration cuts and ration thefts have been on a rise in the rural areas. So, this young group of administrator’s thought technology would be the ideal solution to deal with this problem and cash transfer directly to the beneficiary’s account would ensure full benefits to the person, who then can withdraw the money, go to the ration shop and buy full ration without any hassle in the process.
Further, they thought they should also ensure that the ration reaches to the genuine beneficiary and hence they also ordered that it will be mandatory to have an Adhaar based biometric authentication and upon a successful authentication only people will be able to fetch their subsidized ration from the shops. This will deal with the identity frauds.
Doesn’t these ideas sound fantastic?
Now let us talk about a two member family residing in Hatgamharia block of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Have you by the way heard of this district and the block ever? No I guess.
I am sure the young officials at New Delhi too had no knowledge of this area, while they were formulating the game changing idea to transform delivery of ration to rural households.
Coming back to this family, Jaishree Birua and her husband Mangal Singh Birua reside in small mud house. The family having about 1.5 acres of land and with no irrigation facility. The paddy they grow on these lands only last for about 4months and then for the rest of the year, Mangal has to look for labour work in the surrounding area to cope with their immediate crisis. Jaishree too goes out in search for work and earns daily wages and this is how the livelihood of the family is managed. The subsidized ration at 1/- per Kg has been a real support to this family as this additional food grain acts as a safety net for the family in their plightful life journey.
The couple lost their first child, Budhan when he was 4 years old. He had a severe malignant malaria which is locally known as brain malaria as well. Their second child, Birsa went to school upto 4th standard and then dropped out as this family needed him more at the farm fields rather than at the school. When Birsa was 15, he died of a snake bite and Mangal could hardly do anything with the nearest hospital being 15kms away with no regular transportation available to the hospital from their village.
Mangal is 60 now and Jaishree is 50, if their voter id cards are to be believed. They look older than their age.They could not get their Adhar cards made on the first go and hence Mangal could not avail his senior citizen pension and when they finally got their Aadhar cards, they were told that pension quota for their district has been fulfilled and no new beneficiary will be added now.
However, they could finally make their cards with help from a neighbour who charged them Rs.50 for each Adhaar card, is no small feat.
Now with the new system of ration delivery, this family have been put in a spot. It is difficult for them to go to bank every month as the bank is about 15kms away from their village. When they do reach the bank, they find themselves behind a huge queue. Sometimes counters get closed and remaining people are asked to come another day for withdrawing money. They had returned empty handed from bank even after reaching the withdrawal counters as they were told that their money has not been deposited as of now or there has been a link fail in the system.
A few days later it was found out that many people are not getting the benefits as some of the Adhar numbers got linked with wrong bank account numbers and money has been going to the wrong people. This issues almost took 6 months to get sorted, however the older subsidy amounts were not returned to the original beneficiaries. Finally when Mangal got hold of his subsidy amount after a 4th visit in a month to the bank, he found out that he still has to invest his own 1/- per Kg and add to the subsidy amount received. After a 6 months struggle when Mangal was suppose to fetch his ration from the dealer, he was told that his ration card has been under scrutiny as he did not take his ration for more than two months and he will now have to submit an application to the office of the Marketing Officer(MO) to avail his benefits again. The helpful neighbour took 10/- for the application and submitted to the MO’s office and soon Mangal received an information that he can now withdraw his ration. At, the ration dealer’s shop he found out that the online system does not work 24 hours and it only works when there is network available, so after a couple of visits he was lucky to find the network and was asked for a bio-metric authentication. Much to his astonishment none of his fingers worked and his identity was not authenticated. The dealer was kind enough to give him some more chances and suggested him that he should not keep his fingers dry as dry fingers sometimes do not work in the biometric system. Mangal got lucky on the second day and his fingers matched and his identity was authenticated. He handed over the money to the dealer who in turn gave him 9Kgs of rice. Although he was entitled for 10Kgs but he knew it was a common practice to cut 1 kg as the dealer says he needs to save money for the transportation of goods which the govt does not pay. Mangal did not know that this new sytem was suppose to eradicate the ration cuts and ration thefts, he was just happy that he got his ration after 6 months and that his fingers worked. He also knew that he will have to keep his fingers moist so that it works on the Biometric machine.
Mangal Singh Birua would not raise a question on the urban people and their mindset that made him trouble himself so much but we shall continue to criticize the rural people for not having a toilet or not sending their children to school without even understanding the harsh realities of the poorest areas.
An urban mindset governing rural lives can be absolutely terrible and can be life taking at times. It is most dangerous for the poorest and most marginalized who are resource less and the least aware.
Often ,urban officials, teachers , students, researchers, decision makers, parliamentarians who do not belong to a rural set up and do not experience the rural lifestyle makes miserable mistakes while deciding for the people living in villages. One who never ploughed in life and not knowing how difficult it is to plough an acre of land, often term villagers as lazy and dependent on subsidies while most of the urban middle class families themselves continue to enjoy various subsidies.
One who never knew how difficult it is to access institutions like bank, medical care, block which are distantly placed from villages, often make policies relating to these.
One who never understands that Children dying of malignant malaria can be a common thing in a village, can only produce insensible and theoretical policies.
All we need is a bit of sensibility, a little exposure of the poorest areas of the nation. A little understanding of the living conditions of people residing in extreme poverty and last but not the least, one needs to have great respect for the life journeys of people living under absolutely difficult conditions.
Debmalya Nandy Is a social Worker