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Jhalawar shows the way by leveraging technology to identify beneficiaries of social welfare schemes

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Siddharth Sihag

The biggest challenge policy makers and bureaucrats face today in implementing the social welfare schemes is targeting the deserving beneficiaries and ensuring delivery. But the solution lies in leveraging technology to improve efficiency and accuracy and that is exactly what Siddharth Sihag, District Magistrate and Collector of Jhalawar district in Rajasthan did, and the results were quite encouraging.

“A mix of statistical modeling and then real-time monitoring is one solution to improve efficiency of social welfare schemes when you are looking for a criterion which is primarily age based,” said Sihag while speaking at the Elets 9th Knowledge Exchange Goa earlier this month.

He cited the example of Election Commission of India to get his point across. “EC does it in its 18-19 years of age group voter targeting. They get the numbers from the Census data and then they aggressively target that group in schools and colleges and try to get them enrolled.” Another approach he cited was from the medical and health sector, where he stressed on “looking at data of babies that should have been born vs. the figure coming from the health department” to identify the beneficiaries under the government’s schemes for the welfare of women and babies.

“This data needs to be desegregated as it is not enough to have this data at the district level. It needs to be there at the block level and more importantly at the Gram Panchayat level sometimes, plus the real time monitoring has to be there,” he suggests.

Under his guidance, the district administration of Jhalawar used this kind of data monitoring along with real-time monitoring to identify pensioners. “The social security pension is the biggest safety net there is in Indian context today. This is something, which using the Aadhaar based model today, is delivering money directly to those who are in dire need of such assistance for their subsistence,” Sihag added.

The data from Jhalawar was basically of the 14.5 lakh population from the 2011 Census. There were about 1.5 lakh pensioners in the district, which translates to 10.8 percent of the total population. “We used the total proportion of the pensioners to population for the metric. It provided us with much accurate number of pensioners which should be there in the whole district, including the block and GP level.”

“If we look at the number of people who are above a certain age – 55 for females and 58 for males – then add them with the total number of widows and also with the number of specially-abled people then we have a mix of people who are eligible for receiving pensions,” said the District Magistrate and Collector of Jhalawar district.

That comes roughly to about 12-14 percent of the total population. “Once we had that figure we looked at our own data which we got from the SSP website giving us insights on where things stood in each Gram Panchayat.”

The differences were huge and the variations stood as high as 22 percent in one Gram Panchayat to as low as 4 percent in another. “A total of 62 villages had a proportion of pensioners less than 10 percent to the total population.”

“Before this approach was adopted, targeting used to happen in every RO meeting where SDMs and BDOs were told to go out and enroll as many eligible people as possible. But their answer used to be that all of the people have been covered and that it was a continuous process and we are doing our best. But now using this data modeling and also with the real-time monitoring, there is no data lag or fudging of figures that can be done. Every time a new person is enrolled and pension is handed out, you can see the data being updated on the website,” Sihag informed.

The process was started from January 1, 2019 and right up to the time when the model code of conduct came into effect on 10th of March, the district administration was able to enroll around 12,000 additional pensioners, which is a huge jump compared to the earlier numbers.

“We are at 11.7 percent when it comes to proportion of pensioners to the total population. In five of our 8 blocks, there is not even a single GP which has the proportion of pensioners less than 10 percent. Going forward, in the next phase, we are going to cover others blocks and slowly raise the proportion of pensioners,” Sihag said.

After successfully including more eligible pensioners, the district administration of Jhalawar made efforts for conversion of old age pension to widow pension. In many districts, there is a huge category where there is an overlap of old age pension scheme and the widow pension scheme. It is important to identify the beneficiaries under both the scheme.

“If somebody is a widow pensioner then she is essentially suffering from multiple forms of marginalisation. One is poverty and another is having a female-led household and that too possibly in an age bracket where you could lend yourself to not being able to access governmental schemes that are being run for you,” Sihag said.

In Rajasthan, the situation is that a pension of Rs 750 is generally paid out. While for widows between the age group of 60-75 the pension amount is Rs 100, for widows above 75 years the pension of Rs 1,500. So, there is a lot of gap for someone living in that age bracket.

“We started looking at the metric that we identified. It was the proportion of widows to total pensioners. We found that this proportion should be around 27-28 percent of the total pensioners. But in Jhalawar, this ratio stood at close to 23.7 percent. When we looked for data of our blocks, it varied from 30 percent to 14 percent. So, we got to the data crunching and set GP wise targets and block wise targets and there has been jump in both — the total number of widow pensioners and the conversions that have happened. The conversion is a very simple process. You just need to put the total number of death certificates of the husbands and change the status of the wife from married to widow,” Sihag said.

The innovative ways adopted by the administration led by Sihag have impacted lives of thousands of people and bears the testimony that with the right technology and approach efficiency in delivery of governance is very much achievable at the grassroots level.

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