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Strengthening social security delivery through direct benefit transfers

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Madhumitha Hebbar

The Government of India has issued directives for implementation of direct benefit transfers (DBT) under all centrally sponsored schemes by June 2016. In this regard, the Government of Odisha has invested substantial time in ensuring that systems and processes are in place. However, to further support the efforts, the World Bank is funding a DBT readiness assessment, which will serve as an important knowledge input underpinning DBT roll out across the state. We were contracted by the World Bank to provide analytical support in preparing an implementation readiness diagnostic, which would act as a gap analysis for the state.

Challenges

DBT, which involves digitising government payments, is a huge opportunity to increase efficiencies in government payment systems, while building a digital architecture that can do both: payments and financial inclusion. This is a challenging task in Odisha, especially with reliance on paper registers and in view of poor presence of reliable banking outlets in the interior rural areas of the state. Therefore, this assignment sought to identify operational recommendations for the successful transition of key schemes to the DBT mode.

Our approach

We employ a mix of methods to respond to the range of problems identified.

  • A social protection survey in six high priority districts of Odisha assessed coverage of key schemes, targeting efficiency, and impact of DBT on beneficiary experience of schemes. Further, the survey also assessed household access to, and awareness of, payment infrastructure necessary for DBT.
  • A qualitative deep dive assessed last mile innovations for the delivery of cash using fair price shops, common service centres, self-help groups, post offices, and small savings agents.
  • Secondary data analysis on social protection coverage and financial inclusion was conducted.
  • An assessment examined the state capability to operationalise DBT at lower levels of governance, including a census survey of block development officers.

Outcomes

The social protection survey generated crucial information on the targeting efficiency of key schemes across the state, including the Public Distribution System, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Social Assistance Programme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, and pre-matric scholarships. Further, it provided operational recommendations on the improvement of social welfare delivery across the social protection system, including the use of Aadhaar - the national identification programme in India. The qualitative work informed last mile delivery innovations to improve financial inclusion among marginalised groups. The next phase of work on enhancing state capability to maximise the impact of technology interventions such as Aadhaar would feed directly into ongoing social protection reforms in India.