28 February 2020 : The Hindu Editorials Mains Notes : Mains Sure Shot for UPSC IAS Exam
Question – Analyse the efficiency of the Aadhar system in the PDS system.
Context – Ajay Bhushan Pandey, then CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and current Revenue Secretary, in UIDAI’s 2017-18 annual report, has said that “Aadhaar has curtailed leakages of government subsidies… Through Aadhaar, savings worth ₹90,000 crore have accrued to the government”.
The benefits of Aadhar card in India:
- An Aadhar card is a unique number issued to every citizen of India and is a centralised and universal identification number. The Aadhar card is a biometric document that stores an individual’s personal details in government database, and is fast becoming the government’s base for public welfare and citizen services.
- Identity card: The Aadhar card is a card that does not really have a specific purpose behind it. Unlike a voter ID card, whose sole purpose is to permit the holder to take part in the electoral process, the Aadhaar card was not created with any specific use in mind. Instead, it can be used for a number of purposes, making it a universally acceptable government-issued card, without needing to register or apply for a separate card for each of these services.
- Availing of subsidies: One of the most important uses of Aadhar card is that it permits the holder to avail of all government subsidies he/she is eligible for. Since the government already has all the necessary data on a particular individual, they need only produce their Aadhaar card in order to avail of the various subsidies or programmes. The government has so far introduced schemes whereby the Aadhar can be linked to a bank account and LPG connection so individuals can receive their LPG subsidy directly into their bank accounts. This also negates the possibility of the funds being misappropriated or of individuals making fraudulent claims in order to claim benefits.
- Ease of availability : The Aadhar card is the only government-issued document that is available anywhere, everywhere. An Aadhaar card can be applied for online. This makes it convenient for individuals to always have a copy of a valid government-issued identity document that is also easily accessible. This also reduces the risk of an original document being stolen/misplaced, since the Aadhaar can be downloaded onto any device and displayed when required.
- Benefits of Aadhar card in easing government processes: An Aadhar Card is an essential document when it comes to KYC, verification, and identification purposes. Following are the benefits of Aadhaar Card which can be used to speed up government and bureaucratic processes:
- Acquisition of passport : The acquisition of a passport can be a daunting endeavour as it requires plenty of time. Obtaining a passport includes getting an appointment with the authorities, processing your application, dispatching of the passport and police verification checks. It usually takes multiple weeks to complete all processes and avail a passport, but thanks to the increased uses of an Aadhar Card,the process of obtaining a passport can be now expedited.
- Individuals who wish to obtain a passport can apply for the same online by simply attaching their Aadhaar Card as the only residence and identity proof along with their application.
- Opening bank accounts.
- Digital life certificate : The ‘Jeevan Pramaan for Pensioners’ or the Digital Life certificate as it is also called, was initiated by Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. The aim of the certificate was to abolish the need for the pensioner to be physically present in order to receive pension for the continuation of their scheme. Pensioners can now avail pension without having to leave their homes as their details can be digitally accessed by the agency through their Aadhar Card numbers.
- Jan Dhan Yojana : The Jan Dhan Yojna accepts your Aadhaar Card Number as the only document for the opening of a bank account.
- Disbursing Provident Fund : Individuals who link their Aadhar Card to their Pension Accounts can have their provident fund disbursed directly to their accounts through their PF organisation.
- LPG subsidy : By linking the Aadhaar number to the 17 digit LPG ID, users will be able to avail the LPG subsidy directly in their respective bank accounts.
The main arguments favouring Aadhar:
- When Aadhaar was conceived a decade ago, the rationale postulated was: India spends nearly three trillion rupees a year across several core welfare programmes such as Public Distribution System (PDS), LPG, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act etc; roughly 30-40% of this is lost in leakages; leakages are largely due to ‘ghost’ and ‘duplicate’ beneficiaries using fake identities to avail these benefits; a unique identity biometric scheme can eliminate these leakages and vastly improve efficiency in welfare delivery.
- In fact, the former Union Minister, Arun Jaitley, even renamed the Aadhaar Bill to ‘Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services’ Bill, making it amply clear that Aadhaar’s primary, if not sole purpose, was to improve welfare delivery efficiency.
What is the PDS programme?
- Public distribution system is a government-sponsored chain of shops entrusted with the work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to the needy sections of the society at very cheap prices.
- Wheat, rice, kerosene, sugar, etc. are a few major commodities distributed by the public distribution system.
- Food Corporation of India, a government entity, manages the public distribution system.
- The system is often blamed for its inefficiency and rural-urban bias. It has not been able to fulfill the objective for which it was formed. Moreover, it has frequently been criticized for instances of corruption and black marketing.
Has Aadhar served its purpose?
- Professors Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukthankar. They have recently published a new working paper in the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research, which details findings from an extensive empirical study of the impact of Aadhaar in reducing leakages and accruing fiscal savings.
- Professor Muralidharan and the rest of the team tell us that Aadhaar by itself has no impact in reducing leakages significantly. They conducted a scientifically designed study of the PDS system in Jharkhand covering 15 million beneficiaries using the technique of randomised control trials (RCT). [to know in details about RCT refer to the article of 30th October]
- The study was set up in a manner where one set of beneficiaries went through the Aadhaar-based biometric authentication while the other group used the old system of procuring their ration. The results were then compared to see if Aadhaar-based biometric authentication had any impact in reducing leakages.
- The study concluded that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication had no measurable benefit. Aadhaar-based biometric authentication did not reduce leakages due to elimination of ghosts and duplicates, as widely perceived.
- On the other hand, they found that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication increased transaction costs for beneficiaries. That is, to claim ration worth ₹40, beneficiaries in the Aadhaar system incurred an additional ₹7 of costs than those in the old system, because of multiple trips to authenticate themselves and the opportunity cost of time spent. This is a whopping 17% extra cost burden of the value of the benefit they were entitled to receive.
- To make matters worse, Aadhaar-based biometric authentication also introduced what empirical scientists call Type I error of exclusion. In simple terms, Aadhaar authentication falsely rejected genuine PDS beneficiaries who were then denied their ration supplies. The study finds that nearly 10% of legitimate beneficiaries were denied their ration either because they did not have their Aadhaar linked to their ration card or due to an exclusion error.
- No testing before introducing the scheme on an all-India scale – here was widespread belief among the policy elite that ghosts and duplicates were the scourge of India’s welfare delivery and that Aadhaar would eliminate this. But this belief was never empirically tested. It was deemed to be true simply because the intellectual elite said so.
- Many studies now establish that ghosts and duplicates are not the significant cause of leakages. It would have been better to have undertaken a robust pilot project of scale to test the belief about ghosts and duplicates, before embarking on it nationwide.
- Engineer’s way of measuring policy outcomes – i.e. only through the prism of numerical efficiency. In an engineer’s world, if say, nine people are denied welfare due to a system error while nine million are benefited through greater efficiency, then it is considered a net benefit for society and the policy is given a thumbs up.
- But in a sociologist’s world and in a liberal society, a policy that could run the risk of denying welfare to just a few people, putting their lives at risk, is not worth implementing regardless of how many millions it benefits. Aadhaar was held hostage to the engineer’s worldview of policy efficacy.
A case study on technical glitches in e-PoS devices: (Aadhar Device’s glitches at ration shops in Delhi’s Jasola)
- The machine fails to recognise the fingerprints of women who work as domestic help. Even a few labourers whose finger scans aren’t read.
- Most machines run well for about 30 minutes and then start hanging.
- Device sees constant network breaks. People stand in que for 3-4 days to get ration.
- All systems and techniques have their merits and demerits. There is a need for periodic revision and take required steps for improvement from time to time.
Question – Eastern Ghats is a biota under serious threat. Comment.
Context – The Eastern Ghats, once covered by luxuriant forests, are becoming barren because of the greed and endless quest of mankind in the name of development.
The importance of the Eastern Ghats:
- The Eastern Ghats are separated by two powerful rivers – the Godavari and the Krishna.
- If the Western Ghats are the crown jewels of India’s natural heritage, the Eastern Ghats spread across some 75,000 sq. km. from Odisha to southern Tamil Nadu, play an important dual role: fostering biodiversity and storing energy in trees.
- In these mountains exist a reservoir of about 3,000 flowering plant species, nearly 100 of them endemic, occurring in the dry deciduous, moist deciduous and semi-evergreen landscapes.
- Many animals, including tigers and elephants, and some 400 bird species are found in these discontinuous forests that receive an annual average rainfall of 1,200 mm to 1,500 mm.
- Crucially, many parts, primarily in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, provide forest produce and ecosystem services to millions.
- Given the key functions that the lands perform, in modulating climate, fostering biodiversity and providing sustenance, new research findings arguing that the Ghats face a serious threat from climate change, and temperature variations are a cause for worry.
- It is noteworthy that a disruption of the annual average temperature and diminished rainfall would rob the productivity of these forests, in terms of their ability to store carbon, and provide subsistence material.
- Existing data point to the impoverishment of areas experiencing rainfall reduction in the driest quarter of the year and a rise in seasonal temperature, through reduced plant species diversity and a dominant role for herbs over trees.
- The tribals living in the hills have not received proper price for the food grain they cultivate. They have thus switched over to monocropping tapioca, leading to deterioration of land.
- Most reserve forest areas in these hills are controlled by the forest department, protected by the Tamil Nadu Forest Act, 1882 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The Tami Nadu Hill Areas (Preservation of Trees) Act, 1955 is in force in certain parts of these hills, but it is not implemented effectively in the absence of popular support. As a result, the protection of the tress in private holdings has become a challenge.
- By making use of the loopholes in the Act and other government rules, trees are felled and removed clandestinely. These activities have made the hills of Eastern Ghats barren, its streams have run dry and the biodiversity is disappearing gradually.
- Large-scale plantations of coffee, tea and orchards have been raised in these hills. Silver oak trees grown in these plantations as shade trees are also removed gradually, weakening the fragile ecosystem. While such plantations are considered to be the cause for degradation in places like Yercaud hills, monocropping in Kolli Hills and Pachamalai has devastated entire hills, depleting native vegetation.
- The aromatic and valuable sandal trees, once growing abundantly in Chitheri, Javadhis, Yercaud, Kolli hills, Pacha malai, Bodhamalai, etc, have been indiscriminately felled and illegally removed. The precious species has almost vanished. Only younger regeneration is noticed in a few pockets in some hill ranges.
- Even rare medicinal plants like Sirukurinjan (Gymnema sylvestre), Milagu (Piper nigrum), Kattu kodi (Smilax zeylanica), Vasambu (Acorus calamus), Kanthal (Gloriosa superb), etc, face extinction because of uncontrolled removal.
- Non-native species such as poochedi (Lantana camara), vengaya thamarai (Icornia crassipes) and veli karuvai (Prosopis juliflora) have become invasive, destroying native species and leading to ecological imbalance.
- The removal of enormous quantities of bauxite and magnesite ore from Kolli Hills and Servarayan Hills, respectively, led to indiscriminate destruction of forests. Consequently, water resources in these regions have dried up.
- The forest department permits the removal of Kadukkaai, Nellikai, Mahali Kizhangu, Kalakkai, Eenjamaaru, Kattu Karuveppilai, Kattu mango, etc, as minor forest produce. As a result, the availability of food for wild animals is scarce.
- Despite the Wildlife Protection Act, hunting takes place in some pockets. Tribal villages, private lands and private estates have fragmented protected forests. The forests are getting degraded because of the illicit collection of fire wood, illicit grazing and illicit felling of trees.
- Annual forest fires have become a serious cause for the loss of biodiversity. The pollution caused by the industries established near forest areas also poses a serious threat.
- Indiscriminate destruction of forests has increased human-animal conflict in recent years. Water scarcity and a threat to habitats drive animals to cultivated lands and human habitations in search of food and water.
- The pristine environment of Yercaud, Yelagiri, Javadi, Kolli Hills, Kalrayans, Sirumalai, Thiruvannamalai, Hogenakkal, Azhagarmalai, etc, are deteriorating due to un-regulated tourism. The concept of eco-tourism introduced by the Forest Department in recent years, involving local forest stake-holders may be a boon to not only residents but also the biota of the entire region.
- Untreated sewage and plastic waste have degraded the environment. Only if the people realise the importance of a clean environment and cooperate with local administration, the natural resources can be protected.
Paris Agreement on Climate Change:
- India is committed, under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes through enhanced forest and tree cover. Yet, forest protection policies have often failed dismally.
- By some estimates, the Ghats have shrunk by 16% over the past century, and just one region, Papikonda National Park, lost about 650 sq. km. in two decades from 1991.
Steps to deal with it:
- Relieving the pressure on forests can be done through policies that reduce extraction of scarce resources and incentivise settled agriculture.
- An effective strategy for eco-development, involving locals can save the flora, fauna and natural resources of the region.
- Schemes for restoration of forest peripheries through indigenous plant and tree species, matching national commitments, could qualify for international climate finance, and must be pursued.
- Benefits – At a broader level, the response to the warnings issued by researchers from IIT Kharagpur, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the University of Hyderabad in a recent publication on changes to temperature and rainfall calls for decisive steps to mitigate carbon emissions. Improving tree cover nationally is certain to confer multiple benefits, including modulation of the monsoon, improved air quality and wider spaces for biodiversity to persist.