ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Problem with 'Targeting'

In its zeal to achieve numerical goals, the government is jeopardising the efficacy of welfare schemes.

When targets for social welfare schemes become more important than actual outcomes, warm human beings become cold statistics. During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was instrumental in implementing a forced sterilisation programme. This one programme contributed to the unpopularity of the Indira regime and her eventual electoral defeat in March 1977. More importantly, the overall healthcare programme of the government was wrongly equated with nasbandi, thereby damaging it considerably. In 1994, the government abandoned the concept of setting targets in family welfare initiatives after it made an international commitment at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development. Has the Narendra Modi government failed to learn lessons from the experience of previous governments in its zeal to meet targets for various welfare schemes, including the ones aimed at achieving financial inclusion (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana), improved sanitation (Swachh Bharat) and providing electricity to all villages (Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana)?

A detailed investigation by the Indian Express, based on information obtained under the Right to Information Act together with interviews conducted with 52 individuals living in 25 villages and four cities across six states, has arrived at conclusions that should make the authorities sit up and think twice about the way targets are being met. After the financial inclusion scheme—essentially a repackaging of existing programmes—was announced by the Prime Minister on 15 August 2014 with much fanfare, nationalised banks went on an overdrive to open new accounts. Thereafter, when it was pointed out that the mere opening of “zero balance” accounts would achieve little, bank officials decided to pursue a devious strategy to meet targets. They started illegally seeding a single rupee into a zero balance account to change its nomenclature. Until two years ago, at least two out of five Indian families did not have a member with a bank account. This proportion has since improved. However, opening a bank account is just the first step towards financial inclusion and bringing the poor within the ambit of the organised financial sector. If there is such gross mani­pulation of data at this very first stage, claims about “empowering” the poor by ensuring direct cash transfers to the accounts of beneficiaries of welfare programmes have to be questioned.

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