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Sameet Panda - Data Systems in Welfare: Impact of the JAM Trinity on Pension & PDS in Odisha during COVID-19

Posted by Sameet Panda at Feb 26, 2021 12:00 AM |
This study by Sameet Panda tries to understand the integration of data and digital systems in welfare delivery in Odisha. It brings out the impact of welfare digitalisation on beneficiaries through primary data collected in November 2020. The researcher is thankful to community members for sharing their lived experiences during course of the study. Fieldwork was undertaken in three panchayats of Bhawanipatna block of Kalahandi district, Odisha. Additional research support was provided by Apurv Vivek and Vipul Kumar, and editorial contributions were made by Ambika Tandon (Senior Researcher, CIS). This study was conducted as part of a project on gender, welfare, and surveillance, supported by Privacy International, UK.


Report: Download (PDF)

Extract from the Report

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated flaws in social institutions as never before - threatening food security, public health systems, and livelihood in the informal sector. At the time of writing this report, India is the second-worst affected country in the world with over 9.8 million confirmed cases and more than 1.4 hundred thousand deaths. Unemployment has been increasing at an alarming rate, from 6.67 to 7 percent in October...

Following the national lockdown, many families belonging to low-income groups and daily wage earners found themselves stranded without money, food or credit from their employers. During the strict lockdown of the economy between March to June 2020 lakhs of migrants faced starvation in cities and walked back home. The government responded with some urgent measures, although inadequate. To cope with the food and economic crisis the Government of India and state governments initiated several social protection schemes. In Odisha, The central government provided two kinds of support, cash transfer through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) MGNREGS, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUJ), advance release of pension in cash to existing beneficiaries and cash support of Rs. 1000. The Odisha government provided cash support of Rs. 1000 to ration card holding families. Beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System also received free-of-cost food grain under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana...

Over the last couple of years, along with making the Aadhaar mandatory, the government has also been working towards linking mobile numbers and bank accounts of beneficiaries. An increasing number of schemes are shifting to Direct Benefit Transfer from in-kind or cash benefits - 324 schemes under 51 ministries of the Government of India. Such schemes are relying on the linkage of Jan Dhan accounts, the Aadhaar, and mobile numbers (the “JAM trinity”) to facilitate access to Direct Benefit Transfers. The Economic Survey 2015-16 has pointed out that without improving mobile penetration and rural banking infrastructure making the JAM trinity mandatory would continue to lead to exclusions. The issues with each of the components of the JAM trinity worsened during the COVID-19 crisis with restrictions on physical movement, difficulties in topping up mobile phone accounts, and enrolling for the Aadhaar or addressing other technical issues.

This report assesses the role of the data system in welfare delivery. It focuses on the impact of the three components of the JAM trinity - Jan Dhan Account, mobile numbers and the Aadhaar on Direct Benefit Transfer, social security pension and the Public Distribution System. The objective of this study is to understand the challenges faced by beneficiaries in accessing PDS and pension as a result of digitisation processes. This includes failures in Direct Benefit Transfers and exclusions from databases, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study focuses on gender as a key component shaping the impact of digitisation on beneficiaries. The sample includes both men and women beneficiaries in order to identify such gendered differences. It will also identify infrastructural constraints in Odisha that impact the implementation of digital systems in welfare. Also, it will analyse policy frameworks at central and state levels, to compare their discourse with the impact on the ground.




Sameet Panda