DMPQ-“In rural India, over-reliance on digital technology has worsen financial exclusion.” Critically evaluate.

The Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) initiative is a technology induced step in improving financial inclusion among other stated goals. Although DBT has been operational since 2011, it has become synonymous with the Aadhaar Payments Bridge Systems (APBS) since 2015.

Various government programmes such as maternity entitlements, student scholarships, wages for MGNREGA workers fall under the DBT initiative where money is transferred to the bank accounts of the respective beneficiaries. But the beneficiaries face many hurdles in accessing their money. These are referred to as “last mile challenges”. To deal with these, banking kiosks known as Customer Service Points (CSP) and Banking Correspondents (BC) were promoted. These are private individuals who offer banking services through the Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems (AePS). Subject to network connectivity and electricity, beneficiaries can perform basic banking transactions such as small deposits and withdrawals at these kiosks.

More importantly, the workers/beneficiaries have rarely been consulted regarding their preferred mode of transacting. Lack of adequate checks and balances, absence of any accountability framework for payment intermediaries and a hurried rollout of this technical juggernaut have put the already vulnerable at higher risk of being duped. This has created new forms of corruption as has been recently evidenced in the massive scholarship scam in Jharkhand, where many poor students were deprived of their scholarships owing to a nexus of middlemen, government officials, banking correspondents and others. These exclusions are digitally induced.

While we await the days when rights of the marginalised attain primacy over technological quick fixes, returning to basics might prove valuable. This would minimally entail understanding that the right to work also includes the right to access your own money in a timely and transparent manner.

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