Disinformation and Journalistic Ethics: A Letter from Harsh Mander


June 6, 2013
We are publishing below a communication received from Harsh Mander, a former member of the National Advisory Council, regarding misrepresentation of his position and his politics by no less a person than the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. The misrepresentation could easily have been corrected, had the mistake been really a mistake but by not publishing the letter or even and editorial correction, newspaper and the editor seem to be acknowledging that the error was in fact, intended. In the language of the Cold War, acts such as these were called ‘disinformation’. 
Response to Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013
 

In response to an article by Mr Shekhar Gupta ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013, I sent the letter reproduced below on 3 June 2013, which has not yet been carried by Indian Express. I try not to respond polemically to articles which disagree with my views on public policy or other issues, as these differences are perfectly legitimate in a democracy. And who is to be sure that I am right, and my critics are wrong? But this was different, because it utterly falsely described my ideological position on Maoism as sympathetic, whereas I have always been passionately and publicly opposed to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. Moreover it linked this to my membership in the NAC, and through that by implication to the many pro-poor agendas I sought to bring into and support within the NAC in the two years that I was a member. Finally Indian Express did not check with me the full facts reported in the opinion piece. I therefore felt I should respond formally to the report. But since this response has not been carried, and on the other hand it is being publicly referred to by others as well, I felt it would be best to place this reply in the public domain. – Harsh Mander

———————————————————————————————————-

Dear Shekhar,

Greetings!

This relates to your article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013.

In the article, you have mentioned that Padma, the wife of a leading Maoist Ramakrishna, managed an orphanage run by the NGO Aman Vedika with which I am associated. The facts of the matter are as follows. In several cities, my colleagues and I are helping run 45 residential homes for the education and care of around 4000 homeless street girls and boys. There are about 20 such homes for street boys and girls in Hyderabad. For running these homes, as house mothers and home managers, it is our policy to give preference to single women, women survivors of domestic violence, and homeless and destitute women, so that the children’s home also provides them a place of safety and healing. Under the name of Sirisha, a woman came to my colleagues in Hyderabad in the year 2008 saying she was estranged from her husband and only son and was in severe depression , and that she be given the chance to live among the children so that it would help her to heal. She requested initially for the chance to live in the home and volunteer her services. In time, when a position in the same home fell vacant, she was appointed as one of the home managers, because she performed her duties of child care well. No one had the faintest idea about her true identity. After more than 2 years with us, she applied for 10 days’ long leave for the first time. A few days later, we heard from the newspapers that she was Padma, second wife of a Maoist leader, and she was arrested by the police in Odisha.

On the larger question of ‘Maoist sympathies’, I have absolutely none. I have consistently written and spoken about my unambiguous and resolute opposition to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. I have strongly and consistently disagreed with those, among them my liberal friends, who in any way romanticise or even indirectly rationalise their resort to violence, and those who suggest that their violence is justified because of the structural violence of poverty, exploitation and state violence. I feel that there is no such thing as altruistic violence. Violence, even when deployed in the name of the oppressed, ultimately brutalises all, and the oppressed suffer the most. The only legitimate instruments to fight injustice, in my opinion, are non-violence and democracy.

I would be happy to contribute a longer article to your esteemed newspaper to clarify the facts and my position on Maoist violence. Alternately, I would be grateful if you would kindly at least publish my clarification.

With warm regards,

Harsh Mander

Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies,

 

India – Government needs to make amendments to law public


Make amendments to law public, says Aruna Roy

Rahi Gaikwad

Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy

Terming the right to information a fundamental function in democracy, Aruna Roy, RTI pioneer and social activist, who recently quit the National Advisory Council, said here on Sunday that on the last day of her term, NAC had sent a suggestion to the Prime Minister for making public changes in laws.

“If any amendment is made to the new laws and regulations, it should be put in the public domain for scrutiny, before it goes for drafting. The draft law should be put up on the website,” Ms. Roy said. She was delivering the Pradhan Jwala Prasad memorial lecture on “The Challenge of Transparency and Accountability in Indian Democracy.”

Critical of middle class cynicism, Ms. Roy warned against such a “defeatist” attitude. She said the landmark right to information law was born from the distress of the poor. She stressed engaging with the government. In her first term at NAC, important legislation related to forest rights, domestic violence and employment guarantee were brought into force.

Ms. Roy said her departure from NAC had been “sensationalised” in the media.

“I was not against anybody. I only said that there were two thought processes in the country — one that believed that market growth would solve all problems and the other that advocated socialistic measures.”

The Indian government was highly averse to participatory decision-making, she said.

Raising concerns over the harassment faced by information-seekers, Ms. Roy said asking questions had become difficult.

“What is the price of asking a question in this country? IAS and IPS officers can’t ask questions. Students can’t ask questions and these days even journalists can’t. We have been suppressed for long … Those who are asking questions on sensitive issues, like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, are called extremists and Maoists. They are harassed and killed,” she said.

About 30 lakh people in India were asking questions under the RTI, but it had cost the lives of 30 people, from all sections of society, including engineers, intellectuals, and farmers. They paid with their lives because “they had the audacity to ask questions.” Earlier in the day, Ms. Roy attended a meeting of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, where she met RTI activists in Bihar and learnt about the threat and intimidation they faced.

Ms. Roy questioned the Unique Identification project for being ambiguous on the issue of privacy.

 

#India- There is a credibility crisis at all levels of government- Aruna Roy


, TNN | Jun 2, 2013, 05.58 AM IST

This week activist Aruna Roy walked out of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), complaining about this government’s ideological bias and obsession with growth. She talks to Padmaparna Ghosh about the dilution of the social sector focus.This is the second time that you have resigned from the NAC. What brought you back in 2010?

My decisions to join or leave the NAC have been taken collectively by the organization I work with – the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). I left in 2008 because at that time the NAC didn’t have a chairperson and was not playing the role it was supposed to. I returned in 2010 because there were many issues (such as the demand for a Right to Food bill) that needed a stronger policy framework and I felt it would be useful to channel the input that comes from many campaigns. The NAC has sent many important recommendations to the government. The recent NAC recommendations on the pre-legislative process if implemented immediately will provide all citizens an opportunity to participate in the making of laws. The need is to ensure that at least some of these recommendations are enacted and implemented.

How tough was it to find common ground between civil society and the government?

The agenda of the NAC is set by the government’s political commitments. Within that pre-deter mined agenda, the NAC has worked to incorporate civil society opinion to advise the government on how to take its agenda forward. NAC II has evolved detailed procedures such as the formation of working groups, which has allowed a broader consultative process. The NAC has maintained a focus on issues of significance to the poor and the social sector such as the MGNREGA and the Right to Food, and has taken up specific issues such as nomadic tribals and bonded labourers. One of the NAC’s important contributions has been to build the understanding that delivery systems and democratic governance are crucial to the effective implementation of any social sector initiative. Therefore, the RTI, and other transparency and accountability initiatives such as the social audit and recommendations for a pre-legislative process have been taken up.

How do you respond to those that call MGNREGA “demand-driven distress employment” and, therefore, ineligible for minimum wage?

The Minimum Wage Act came into effect in 1948 and has remained the bedrock for workers’ rights. Therefore the importance of payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers extends beyond the MGNREGA itself. If the Government refuses to pay minimum wages to workers on its own programme, it can never enforce the law for the millions of unorganised workers in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that no one can even opt to work for less than the minimum wage, no employer can use a lack of resources as an excuse and any labour that is paid less should be considered forced.

The argument that the government does not have to pay minimum wages to people in distress only proves the SC’s point. In fact this issue goes straight to the core of the battle around MGNREGA. People who have been profiting from exploitation through payment of distress wages are now reacting because the MGNREGA has given workers the capacity to fight for minimum wages even outside the programme. By violating the Minimum Wages Act, the government is threatening to destroy the most significant labour protection measure in India.

How do you intend to press for its implementation from outside NAC?

The NAC is an advisory body. That is why I feel it necessary to concentrate on advocating in the public domain for the acceptance and implementation of these recommendations. I do not believe that a democratic government can keep refusing to respect the constitutional entitlement of a minimum wage. Public pressure needs to be built up around this issue, as we close in on elections.

What do you believe you have accomplished during your tenure at the NAC?

The NAC gave me an opportunity to raise multiple issues of concern to people’s movements and campaigns. It played a very important role in the passage of landmark legislations such as the RTI and MGNREGA. It was because of the NAC that experience from people’s campaigns was processed into powerful and effective draft laws. Even though this was often whittled down by the bureaucracy it served as a standard. My association with the NAC helped strengthen causes of the poor and marginalized I have been associated with over the last few years.

UPA-2’s credibility has been damaged in the recent past. Would you vote them back in 2014?

The crisis in credibility today is at all levels of government. Effective implementation is as important as the legislations themselves. Our solutions do not lie in thoughts between one election and another but in addressing the lack of transparency and accountability in governance structures. My politics has always been to enhance the participation of people within the democratic frameworks so that their voices are heard not just once in five years but every day

 

Aruna Roy leaves National Advisory Council


May 29, 2013

New DelhiNoted social rights activist Aruna Roy has decided to leave the National Advisory Council (NAC). Her letter of resignation has been accepted by NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who also heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The task of the NAC is to provide inputs in the formulation of policy by the government, and to provide support to the government in legislative business.

In her letter to Sonia Gandhi, Roy listed differences with the government, specially over the refusal to give minimum wages to beneficiaries under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

The noted social activist said that despite its contribution to changing the lives of the rural poor, implementation of this crucial flagship programme remains a challenge.

“There is a huge group of MGNREGS beneficiaries who are critical, but supportive of the law. They are losing public and political space to a small, vocal, and powerful minority determined to undermine the basic objectives of the MGNREGS,” Roy said in her letter.

“This is in continuation of the conversation we had some time ago, when I had requested that I not be considered for another term in the NAC. I am grateful for your accepting my request, while assuring you continued support to campaigns for social sector causes being taken up outside the NAC,” Roy wrote.

She said that it was “extremely unfortunate” that the prime minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to MGNREGS workers and chose instead to appeal against the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering the payment of minimum wages to MGNREGS workers.

“Even more distressing is the government’s refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny payment of minimum wages and still make claims of inclusive growth,” Roy said.

Listing the achievements of the NAC, Roy said: “It is a matter of great significance that the NAC has approved a pre-legislative consultative process and will send it to government for necessary action. In my opinion, the NAC is itself a kind of pre-legislative body that has benefited immensely from the public consultations it has held.”

The functioning of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, and its celebrated report in the aftermath of the Dec 16 gang-rape in Delhi, were also an outcome of a pre-legislative consultative process, Roy noted, hoping that the process of public consultation would become more robust.

Favouring immediate passage of the food security bill, Roy said: “Given the hunger and malnutrition scenario in the country, a food security bill should have been debated and passed by parliament by now.”

In her letter accepting Roy’s resignation, Sonia Gandhi said: “I respect your decision to move on from the National Advisory Council. I hope that we will continue to have the benefit of your wisdom and thoughts as a friend and supporter of NAC.”

 

IANS

 

NAC Working Group on Universal Health Coverage Final Recommendations


09th May, 2013
The National Advisory Council had constituted a Working Group of its Members on “Universal Health Coverage”. The Working Group looked into the issue to propose measures to ensure quality health coverages to all the citizens which are equitable, affordable and unviersal.
02. The Working Group has had several rounds of consultations with the concerned central Ministries, senior officers of the State Governments, Civil Society and Experts. Based on the consultations, the Working Group has come up with the set of draft recommendations in this regard.
03. The draft recommendations of the Working Group are now placed in public domain for comments.
 
 
Comments may be sent to the Convener of the Working Group of NAC by 25th May, 2013 by email at wg-uhc.nac@nic.in 

 

#Budget2013 high on rhetoric, low on funds for food security


Buisnesstoday

Sebastian P.T.
Sebastian P.T.

For all the talk of the United Progressive Alliance government about the seminal step the proposed National Food Security Bill will be in eradicating hunger and malnutrition, Finance Minister P Chidambaram‘s budgetary allocation for it is paltry. In his Budget speech , the Finance Minister said he was setting aside an extra Rs 10,000 crore, apart from the usual provision for  food subsidy, toward the “incremental cost” likely once the legislation is passed.

How much has Chidambaram provided? Part two of the Expenditure Budget documents shows it is Rs 90,000 crore. The document clarifies: “The provision of Rs 90,000 core for food subsidy also includes a provision of Rs 10,000 crore for implementing the National Food Security Act.”

How much was the food subsidy envisioned in the last Budget (2012/13) for the current financial year? It was Rs 75,000 crore, and the revised estimate was above Rs 85,000. But this estimate – as the government itself has said – was based on population numbers of year 2000. Had this figure been updated to the 2011 census, the food subsidy would have been above Rs 1,10,000 crore (as per Food Ministry’s estimates).

And, if the 2011 census figures are used to estimate the food subsidy bill for 2013/14, it rises, by the food ministry’s own calculations, to Rs 124,000 crore – even without the Food Security Bill becoming law. If it is passed the subsidy will be even higher. Of course, all these estimates are based on the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011.

So how does Chidambaram’s allocation of Rs 90,000 crore amount to an additional outlay?  “I don’t know the Bill yet,” said Chidambaram at his press conference after the Budget announcement. “There is no Food Security Bill at the moment. We only have the Standing Committee’s report on an earlier version of the Bill. It is only when the (revised) Bill is presented to the Cabinet, that we can do an assessment of its cost. I cannot put a number today. However, in anticipation that a Bill will carry an incremental cost, I have provided Rs 10,000 crore.”

But he should have had an idea. The estimates of the food ministry, based on the original provisions of the Bill, are public knowledge. The original bill intended to include up to three-fourths of the rural population and half the urban population as beneficiaries, with 46 per cent of the former and 28 per cent of the latter being ‘priority households’, which would be entitled to seven kilos of foodgrain per person per month, at prices of one rupee per kg for coarse grain, two rupees for wheat and three rupees for rice. (Distinct from them would be the ‘general households’, which would get three kilos or less at half the price the government paid farmers to procure the grain.) The ministry estimated the subsidy at Rs 1,26,000 crore a year.

How can Rs 90,000 crore then be called an enhanced allocation? “This is a big letdown,” said N.C. Saxena, member of the Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council (NAC). “The meagre Rs. 10,000 crore set aside for the implementation of the Food Security bill not only implies the lack of urgency on the government’s part to enact it but also the gross underestimation of the additional resources required,” says Subrat Das, Executive Director, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Examining the original Bill,the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution has recommended removing the distinction between priority and general households, among other things. But no final decision has been taken. Whatever is decided, however, even if the final cost is less than Rs 126,000 crore, it certainly will be much more than what the finance minister has provided for. He certainly will have to loosen his wallet or the outcome could well be a diluted Bill, hardly serving the noble intent.

 

Linking #Aadhaar to Direct Benefit Transfer scheme a mistake, says Aruna Roy #UID #biometrics


Aruna Roy at RTI Activist's National Conventio...

Politics news, Updated Feb 28, 2013

 

The Direct Benefit Transfer initiative of the government came in for discussion and scrutiny in Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council on February 26. Nandan Nilekani, Chairperson of UIDAI, sought to assure members that Aadhar will not become a tool for exclusion. After the meeting Aruna Roy, one of the foremost critics of the Direct Benefit Transfer initiative said, “We think it is one of the biggest mistakes this country is making i.e. linking Aadhar to welfare delivery”. Mihir Shah, who also participated in the meeting said, “The same concerns seem to be reflected on both sides about managing the transition which is the real problem that is coming in”.

Following are the issues raised by Aruna Roy at the meeting:

- The UID must not be compulsory:

The UID claims to be voluntary method of proving identity but has now become compulsory for anyone seeking government services or social sector entitlements.

- Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) only adds more hassles without providing benefits to the beneficiary:

The new architecture of using the UID to access existing cash benefits through the bank has only added an extra layer of complicated and complex procedures and has burdened both the programme as well as the beneficiary with little apparent advantage. As of now, this is being tested out in a miniscule number of schemes but plans clearly exist to impose it on the large delivery schemes such as MGNREGA, Rations and Pensions where it will never work and cause complete havoc. Beneficiaries are not receiving anything new through DBTs. The difference from before is the requirement of a mandatory UID number and biometric authentication for both the application process and for use each time they receive a benefit. Any shortcoming in the process can result in beneficiaries losing their entitlement.

- Dismal performance in two months of roll out:

Despite the effort to depict it as a game changer, and deployment of huge resources and government machinery, the success rate has been dismal and pathetic. Two months after the roll out in 20 pilot districts, the total amount of money transferred nationally has been just 5.5 crores through the Aadhar based payment network. In Ajmer district for instance, out of approximately 20,000 potential beneficiaries, only approximately 220 beneficiaries have so far received money in the bank through the Aadhar based Payment Bridge. None of them as yet have received money through a biometric identification system. Therefore, in fact the Aadhar system has had zero success till date. This is despite the fact that the number of schemes taken up initially have been small and therefore should have been manageable. In the Janani Suraksha Yojna for instance, only a 139 women, out of approximately 1400 who have delivered children in the hospital have received money in the bank through Aadhar. Even their payment has been made without biometrics.

Even if biometrics were a 100 per cent efficient and workable the Aadhar based payment network will clearly take decades before it will cover its targeted beneficiaries. This is because enrollment is very slow, banking infrastructure is very poor and the existing short-comings of the scheme are only compounded by the complications created by this new requirement. When DBT is expanded to cover programmes with a large number of beneficiaries such as NREGA and pensions, it is likely to result in huge exclusions and delays. This anticipated problem is now sought to be overcome through the appointment of 1 million banking/ business correspondents (BC) to reach the money to the poor. The BC can by design be anyone for example, a kirana storekeeper, a selfhelp group, or any individual who manages to get selected. To the extent that these are tried systems, they have not worked. It is a system that will create middlemen and agents with very poor accountability. However, by rolling it out in order to make the UID based payment system viable, there will be huge costs to the state exchequer as well as the poor of this country.

Add to this the problems of biometric identification and it becomes clear that it must be immediately dismantled if the poor are to receive their benefits

- Serious problems with the BC model (micro-ATMs)

1. The complete lack of accountability of the BC

2. The technical problems with biometric authentication to cover a 100 per cent of the beneficiary population.

3. The need for online authentication where every transaction is sent in real time and an authentication received even in some of the most remote parts.

4. Because this is a closed system which requires 100 per cent efficiency and verification – in the enumerable cases where the system fails, the solution has been to offer manual override through a variety of means. The fact is as soon as you use manual override in such a closed system, it institutionalises potential leakage and fraud. You get the worst of both worlds – the huge harm, cost, and burden of new all encompassing authentication system and the inability to properly monitor the programme itself.

- Net result is exclusion:

Making access to entitlements for the poor that much more difficult, and in certain cases, excluding them all together.

- Experiment on the poor:

This technology is untried and to experiment on the poor is unjustifiable and because it is de-facto compulsory it is also unconstitutional.

- Failed experiment being pushed through:

The roll out is clearly beyond the stage of experimentation, and is being continued despite abject failures.

- Facilitating Cash transfer, abdication of responsibility of government to deliver:

One possible motive for doing this in the welfare sector is to allow the provision of goods and services to be replaced with cash. In many spheres, including the PDS, people in government have been saying that they are unable to deliver efficiently, without corruption and they would prefer to transfer the cash rather than provide the goods or service. If the government were to replace goods and services with cash, it would clearly be abdicating its fundamental responsibility to deliver.

- Feasibility:

No standards have been set to determine feasibility. Current proofs of concept studies are being conducted by the departments themselves.

- Functioning outside of a legal framework:

Recommendation of standing committee has been ignored, and the UID system pushed through at an alarming speed and scale in a legal vacuum despite objections from parliament.

The potential for people and communities to be profiled: Eventually, whether or not this helps in being an efficient delivery system, the aadhar biometric identification will open up the possibility of profiling individuals and communities in an unacceptable manner. Separate silos of information can now easily be merged, and the information misused. This would also pose a fundamental threat to our democratic fabric and affect the fundamental rights of citizens.

Monitoring in the hands of machines and not local communities: Even the de-duplication being claimed has to be examined. So far, no action seems to have been taken against anyone who has used duplicate identities to pilfer benefits. This method of monitoring does not allow immediate local action and it takes places the entire system in a mode of monitoring far removed from the beneficiaries themselves.

Only UID technology being used to the exclusion of other alternative technologies: This is not to say that technology is not useful if used appropriately and wisely. However, the Aadhar system has no place for any alternative technologies like smart cards or localised biometrics. In many cases these maybe more appropriate and better but the centralized Aadhar monolith cannot make space for such innovation or practice.

After the meeting, Aruna Roy and Mihir Shah spoke briefly to CNN-IBN. Here is the transcript of the interview:

CNN-IBN: Why was Nandan Nilekani present at the NAC meet?

Aruna Roy: Nandan Nilekani came to brainstorm with the NAC. He was supposed to meet us long ago and he hadn’t. We all expressed our diverse, different opinions as usual. Many agreed on some issues, many did not agree on some issues. There were all issues about implementation which were expressed. Some approved, some disapproved but this was not an NAC meeting.

CNN-IBN: What is your position?

Aruna Roy: You know my position very well. We think it is one of the biggest mistakes this country is making i.e. linking Aadhar to welfare delivery. So many of us have written about it, have talked about it.

CNN-IBN: Is the NAC divided on this?

Aruna Roy: This was not an NAC meeting. As individuals we have different opinions, some of us agree, some of us don’t agree.

CNN-IBN: What was Nilekani’s presentation about?

Mihir Shah: Nilekani’s presentation was on the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme and the use of Aadhar in it. And he was very responsive to the concerns of NAC members. The essential concern, I believe is that we need to manage the transition well. There is a situation today when not all beneficiaries of government programmes have Aadhar numbers. There is no internet connectivity in large parts of the country. The other concern was people should not be denied benefits if they do not have Aadhar numbers. The transition to a situation where everyone has Aadhar numbers, bank accounts, and internet enabled bank accounts has to be managed very carefully. This could become means of exclusion rather than inclusion. I must tell you that the chairperson of UIDAI, Nandan Nilekani was very clear in his mind there should be no denial of benefits of anyone who does not have an Aadhar number. In fact, he went to the extent to say that if a person does not have fingers or irises there will be what he called a manual override. Given that that is also a possibility, I don’t think we should be apprehensive about the problems caused by Aadhar in the direct benefit transfer by the government.

CNN-IBN: There are questions about the fact that Aadhar now exists in a legal vacuum?

Mihir Shah: What Nilekani said was that the present legal status of the UID does not prevent it from doing what it is doing today. The legal part of it which is yet to be enacted in Parliament (in fact he asked the NAC to help him expedite the process) does not actually come in the way of doing the work that the UIDAI authority is doing today.

CNN-IBN: Is the NAC divided?

Mihir Shah: At least from the meeting today, I got the impression that there is far greater unanimity than I had imagined myself. Because, I think the concerns are shared. And the concerns are also shared by the UID. I think the same concerns seem to be reflected on both sides about managing the transition which is the real problem that is coming in from Kotkasim and all other examples that are being cited. The problem is that if people don’t have bank accounts, if they don’t have Aadhar numbers obviously you cannot use this architecture to use this scheme. But once you do, a large number of NAC members feel that it is a good initiative

 

NAC members raise concerns over direct benefit transfer scheme #Aadhaar #UID


Concerns raised over the efficiency of banking networks and on-the-ground preparations for the schemeAnuja & Liz Mathew   Liz Mathew , livemint.com
First Published: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 52 PM IST
NAC members argue that public services should not be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint<br />
” src=”<a href=http://www.livemint.com/rf/Image-621×414/LiveMint/Period1/2013/02/27/Photos/uid–621×414.jpg&#8221; />
NAC members argue that public services should not be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number.
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

ALSO READ

Updated: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 59 PM IST
New DelhiA section of the Sonia Gandhi -led National Advisory Council (NAC) is not happy with the government “rushing into” the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme, expected to be the flagship programme of the ruling Congress party in the national election scheduled for next year.
At a meeting of the NAC on Tuesday, where Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairmanNandan Nilekani made a presentation on Aadhaar and DBT, some members flagged concerns on the efficiency of banking networks and on-the-ground preparations for the scheme. They argued that no public services should be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number.
According to five members in the 11-member committee, the members warned the scheme cannot be implemented in a hurried manner without proper mechanism and preparations.
State governments, ministries and departments should not rush into direct cash transfers without assessing whether or not they are appropriate and whether the preconditions are in place,” said A.K. Shivakumar, NAC member, adding that a legal framework within which the identity numbers are being issued needs to be in place.
The United Progressive Alliance government, which has been in election mode for some time now, recently launched the DBT, which aims to directly transfer cash subsidies using Aadhaar to beneficiaries of several government welfare schemes. A pilot was rolled out in 20 districts for 26 schemes on 1 January. Finance minister P. Chidambaram and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh announced that programme from a party platform, which indicated the Congress’ intention to use it as an election plank. Party leaders also coined a slogan for the scheme, “Aapka paisa aapke haath” (your money in your hands), an indirect reference to Congress’ election symbol.
Nilekani told the members that 280 million Aadhaar numbers have been issued so far and by 2014, the authority expects to enrol 600 million people. DBT is expected to plug leakages, reduce wastage and bring down discrepancies in the beneficiary list. However, the members also raised questions about making Aadhaar compulsory. “The council appreciated UID as a concept but some issues were raised. The main concern was that while UID was voluntary, the interpretation made at the state level was that it was mandatory for access to certain social service schemes. While it is not intentional, it is playing out differently on the ground,” said Mirai Chatterjee, member of the council.
Another NAC member N.C. Saxena said that while in general there was a view that Aadhaar was a “good scheme”, there were transition problems and the ministries should not be in a hurry to make it compulsory.
Another member who did not want to be identified said that concerns over the banking network and linkages to it were also raised.
NAC member Aruna Roy was critical of the scheme, saying in the meeting that the idea of DBT was an “experiment on the poor” and a “failed experiment being pushed through”. “The new architecture of using the UID to access existing cash benefits through the bank has only added an extra layer of complicated and complex procedures and has burdened both the programme as well as the beneficiary with little apparent advantage,” a release from Roy’s office quoted her as saying.
In response to concerns that UIDAI had not been given legal sanction by Parliament, Nilekani’s presentation highlighted that the authority has been functioning under executive notification issued by the Planning Commission in 2009, which is valid under law, the same member said. The Bill pending before Parliament is just to strengthen the authority by giving it statutory status in order to impose obligations and penalties, Nilekani said in his presentation.
A senior government official aware of the development, who did not want to be identified, said most of the NAC members were supportive. However, concerns raised by some on operational issues related to cash transfer were legitimate. “They are being addressed,” the official said.
The Congress is pushing the DBT scheme as one of its key achievements. In the presidential address last week listing the government’s agenda for the coming year, Pranab Mukherjee said it will be a “trendsetter” and will “cut leakages, bring millions of people into the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries”.
Surabhi Agarwal contributed to this story.
Comment E-mail Print 
First Published: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 52 PM IST

 

Opposition criticizes UPA’s plan to use Aadhaar for cash transfers


200 px

200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

BJP, CPM say the UID system is not ready and is yet to be approved by the Parliament
Anuja
           First Published: Wed, Nov 28 2012. Livemint.com
New Delhi: A day after the Congress party staked claim to the United Progressive Alliance government’s direct cash transfer programme that seeks to use the Aadhaar number, opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and activists on Wednesday criticized the move on the grounds that while such transfers will not reduce instances of corruption, the bid to use unique-identity number comes when a proposed law for it is yet to be approved by the government.
“Parliament has not yet passed the UID (unique identification) Bill, but sitting in the Congress office, they said that they will enforce UID,” Brinda Karat, politburo member of the CPM said, referring to a media briefing by finance minister P. Chidambaram and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh held on Monday. “The CPM demands that till the Bill is not debated in the Parliament, this linkage between UID and other schemes should not be made.”
Chidambaram said on Tuesday that the government would directly transfer benefits of 29 welfare schemes to the beneficiaries in 51 districts. While it would start with a pilot programme in January, the initiative will be extended to 18 states from April next year. Subsidies related to food and fertilizers are excluded from the initial list.
Speaking at the event on Tuesday, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said that while the move was “politically motivated”, the system was not yet ready for it.
“They (the government) are bringing a new word by saying cash transfer, but the framework for it is not yet ready, the scheme is not yet ready… We (the BJP) will raise this issue in Parliament,” he said.
Rights activists, too, criticized the move.
Aruna Roy, social activist and member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council that sets the government’s social agenda, said technology alone will not be able to reduce corruption. “Corruption is just an excuse,” she said, adding that the UID scheme should not be linked with other programmes.

 

 

 

#India- Government withdraws RTI Act amendments #goodnews


New Delhi,Politics,Immigration/Law/Rights, Thu, 01 Nov 2012IANS
New Delhi, Nov 1 (IANS) Under pressure from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Manmohan Singh government Thursday withdrew the controversial amendments aimed at diluting the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“The cabinet decided to withdraw the amendments to the RTI Act,” a government source told IANS after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The campaign against the amendments was led by activist Aruna Roy, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council.
The withdrawal of amendments would mean it would be possible for the citizens to ask for information related to file notings, except on issues about national security, privacy and protection of commercial interest. The amendments had sought to restrict disclosure of file notings only to social and developmental issues.
“It is an important decision. The amendments would have killed the RTI Act and there would have been no transparency in governance,” Nikhil Dey, who works closely with Aruna Roy on the RTI Act, told IANS.
Roy even met Gandhi on the government’s plans to dilute the act. Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra was also not in favour of the amendments, said sources.
The RTI Act was introduced during the previous UPA government to bring more transparency in governance and fight corruption.