Improving the delivery of direct benefit transfers in India
Speaker: Shruti Viswanathan, governance specialist, Oxford Policy Management Limited
Discussant: Bornali Bhandari, senior fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research
Chair: Neeta Goel, lead evaluation specialist, 3ie
Direct benefit transfers (DBTs) are currently being used in social protection programmes across India to reduce leakages and inefficiencies in the receipt of entitlements. Successive governments have stressed the importance of these transfers for ensuring benefits reach the right people, and at the right time. Although technology can potentially aid the success of direct benefit transfers, the capacity required to implement systems effectively has raised questions.
In her presentation, Shruti presented key learnings from recent studies that unpacked the implementation and impact challenges of DBTs. Although DBTs aim to reduce leakage and inefficiencies, there are multiple delays in their delivery. She discussed three ways in which technology-aided programmes can be improved: systems design, personnel, and, beneficiary awareness and grievance redressal mechanisms that can be navigated easily. Another key takeaway from the one of the studies was that even though technology can help simplify DBTs, operational issues involving systems, personnel and grievance redressal may lead to a digital equivalent of paper bureaucracy.
Adding to the discussion, Bornali Bhandari acknowledged that beneficiaries continue to face numerous barriers to the smooth delivery of DBTs in India. These barriers include three enablers necessary for the delivery of DBT’s —valid ID (Aadhaar), infrastructure (banking) and network (internet). For DBT’s to work smoothly, all three enablers need to be functioning seamlessly. The gap between rural and urban areas regarding these enablers are enormous.