LEFT BEHIND ON THE PATH AHEAD
Author: Nikhil Shenoy
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Mandatory digitization is causing immense pain to the poor, non-literate and marginalized section of the country. An 11 year old girl has died in Jharkhand died allegedly due to starvation as she was denied government rations because her ration card was not seeded with her Aadhaar number.
Similarly, in Rajasthan, the State government announced that from October 2, 2017 pension forms would be accepted only ‘online’ through ‘e-mitra kendras’ or licensed private sector operators. Social security pensions are a lifeline for the elderly poor. In Rajasthan alone, there are 63,18,095 active pensioners. Previously, to apply for a pension, an eligible person could submit pension forms to the panchayat. Now, they have to first go to an e-mitra kendra. The applicant must have with them Aadhaar and Bhamashah cards (a State-level identification platform similar to the UID/Aadhaar system), upload all the documents, submit their biometrics, pay a small fee and wait for verification and sanction. This process is supposed to cost Rs.11 but e-mitras charge Rs.100.
The elderly poor and illiterate face the following challenges in the growing process of digitisation:
- Non-acquaintance with technology – The elderly poor are unable to open bank accounts for themselves, upload documents etc. This requires them to rely on other persons and thus makes them vulnerable to exploitation.
- Inability to visit e-mitra kendras due to infirmity/old age – Many persons are unable to visit the e-mitra kendras in Rajasthan as they are limbless, infirm or bed-ridden. Moreover, the pensioners are also required to re-verify themselves at periodic intervals which requires them to travel frequently. Inability to register/re-verification has also led to classification of living pensioners as ‘dead’.
- A parallel digital option must be provided. Beneficiaries must have the option to choose a payment mode that is convenient to them (at least for the section that is above a certain age).
- Alternatively, options like automatic credit of pensions to eligible persons may be explored.