The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) facility was introduced in 2013 to eliminate the role of middlemen between government schemes and the people who are meant to be beneficiaries of the schemes, thus ensuring that whoever is granted money gets it directly in their bank accounts. However, education experts suggest that the DBT can be used as more than just a money transfer facility. Parth J. Shah, president, Centre for Civil Society (CCS), talks to The Sunday Guardian highlighting the challenges in the current DBT system in education and its potential. Excerpts:
Q. There are 21 schemes in higher education and six schemes in school education that are currently being implemented through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT). Since DBT’s introduction, has the implementation got efficient?
A. These schemes have been cash schemes anyway. Scholarships involve giving money. So before DBT and after DBT, the way cash was transferred has changed. The process that was followed earlier included the scholarship money going to the school principal and he or she would forward the money to the student who won the scholarship. It facilitated corruption. The money that is going around is still the same, but now it directly reaches the beneficiary. In this sense, DBT has dramatically improved the efficiency of delivering cash bringing down the level of corruption. In urban areas, the situation is still better, but in rural areas, students did not even know that they got the scholarship and the principal and teacher were able to sit and use the money themselves. This has stopped.
Q. Other than facilitating cash delivery, how else has DBT benefitted students and what more potential does DBT has to improve our education system?
A. The current scholarship model is largely based on merit or merit-cum-means and is not attached to any conditions. As long as you have a scholarship certificate, you can continue to show it to get money. There will not be any questions about your attendance or class performance. So, the use of DBT right now is limited, but can have some goal attached to it and not just stay as a money transfer facility. One way to do is to bring in conditional cash transfers. This is the standard procedure followed in various countries across the world, where in order to continue to receive scholarship money, students have to fulfil some conditions like maintaining attendance, scores etc. These help DBT focus on particular outcomes. Scholarships do not have this kind of focus; they are general support given to students.
Q. Has India started using DBT for more than just efficient cash transfers?
A. In a first-of-its-kind programme in India, the DBT is being used to lower dropout rate in Orissa high schools. A secondary education programme called Orissa Girls’ Incentive Programme (OGIP) is being carried now wherein cash rewards are given to students for maintaining attendance. Here, the dropout rate was over 50%, but has significantly gone down. Another programme is being replicated in Rajasthan. Right now, there are several other poorer states that are interested in extending the role of DBT, but right now are trying to recognise their focus groups and establish their priority like SC youths, ST youths, SC girls etc. These are political decisions, they take time. India has not yet started to exploit the uses of DBT completely like other countries have. There is a lot that can be streamlined.
Q. What are the major challenges that DBT faces in the country?
A. The first major challenge is logistical. We do not have a banking system efficient enough that ensures smooth implementation of DBT. Beneficiaries might not even have bank accounts or the banking facilities are far from them, long queues, paper work and digital illiteracy are real roadblocks. The second challenge is that some people in the focus group might qualify, but are not identified to get the scheme benefit. A group of adivasi girls is recognised as a beneficiary of a particular scheme, but not all of them get the benefit and are left behind. Other than Orissa and Rajasthan, DBT is not being used for any other purpose than as a money transfer facility; there is hardly any initiative at spreading awareness either. Politics, too, gets in the way of DBT. There are interest groups like teachers, principals etc., who are not happy with DBT. So, these groups try to influence the policy in their favour thus defeating the cause of DBT.