New Delhi: The Direct Benefit Transfer initiative of the government has a prominent place in the possible strategies for a winning way for the Congress party in 2014. Initially sceptical, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has now strongly batted for Congress party's initiative as the 'single most important administrative reform'.
When Ramesh was asked if he backed the Direct Benefit Transfer unambiguously, he replied, "hundred per cent". While speaking to CNN-IBN's Rupashree Nanda the minister also said that his initial worry stemmed from the fact that post office accounts were not ready yet.
Below is the transcript of the interview:
CNN-IBN: You have coined the slogan, 'aap ka paisa, aap ke haath'?
Jairam Ramesh: I didn't coin it - that was collectively decided in which many people played a role and it is a slogan that reflects what we are trying to do.
CNN-IBN: It sounds like an election slogan. The moment we hear it, we feel that the Congress is preparing for the elections.
Jairam Ramesh: To the media, everything sounds like an election slogan. To a journalist, everything sounds like an election slogan. It is a slogan to demystify the Direct Benefit Transfer initiative. Who understands what direct benefit transfer is? Seedha laabh sthanantar - that's the Hindi translation of Direct Benefit Transfer. Would anybody ever understand this?
CNN-IBN: The fact is that even in Delhi, the Aadhaar infrastructure is not in place. We have been to North-West Delhi and most people had not been enrolled yet. Shouldn't that have been done first before going ahead with it?
Jairam Ramesh: For every solution in India there are 10 problems. For every initiative in India there will be 100 people who will say shouldn't that have been done. We are going to start. This is an initiative. This is the single most important initiative that has been taken to reform the welfare delivery system - 25 years ago one initiative was taken by Rajiv Gandhi which is to strengthen the panchayats because he believed that governments which are accountable at the lowest level will be more transparent. That was institutional innovation, this is technological innovation. And I think this combination between the institutional and technological innovation that is going to drive better welfare delivery.
CNN-IBN: Does the lack of preparation not worry you? That this transition to Aadhaar Enabled Cash Transfers could have undesirable consequences?
Jairam Ramesh: It does not worry me. there are two types of people in our country - one who want to do something and the other who want to shoot down everything that is being done. So I am prepared for it. But the fact is that you have to do some reform - it can't be business as usual. You cannot wait for the perfect solution because India is a vast country. There are parts in Andhra Pradesh for example, by August, I can assure you in Andhra Pradesh scholarships, pensions, MNREGA wage payments, whether through banks or post offices will be through Aadhaar based based system. Now, that is not the case in UP, not the case in Bihar but will certainly be in AP.
CNN-IBN: So you agree with the Finance Minister when he says that this will be a game-changer and work like magic?
Jairam Ramesh: No, no.. Don't put words into my mouth which are not my words. Those are the Finance Minister's words. What I have said is that this is a fundamental reform of administration - this is an administrative reform that has many challenges, many problems but we have to address these challenges and problems.
CNN-IBN: When this idea was introduced initially you had your reservations?
Jairam Ramesh: No. I did not have any reservations. My problem was more with the fact the post offices were not ready. 70 per cent of MNREGS accounts and 40-50 per cent of pension accounts are in post offices and we have to push the post offices into the system and that is going to take some time. Next month, I 'll be launching this initiative in the post offices of Chitoor district.
CNN-IBN: So you are unambiguously batting for Aadhaar-enabled Cash Transfers?
Jairam Ramesh: Hundred per cent. I see a battle, I see criticism, I see informed criticism, I see analytical criticism, I see feedback. I see all of that but I have to do what I have to do.
CNN-IBN: What are your fears about Aadhaar? What is the one thing that could go wrong?
Jairam Ramesh: Scale - the scale at which we are attempting is a stupendous scale and it has not been done anywhere in the world. There are two pillars - one is the aadhaar number and the other is the financial inclusion. Both of these have to go hand in hand. And the new solutions that we are introducing, the micro ATMs, the expansion of banking correspondents, the inter-operable banking correspondent network, women SHGs, Aanganwadi workers, Asha volunteers - all are becoming banking correspondents. The people who will take money from the bank and post office accounts into the hands of the beneficiaries.