News / Asia

India Replaces Subsidies for the Poor with Cash Transfers

Impoverished and homeless people stand in a queue to receive free food from a volunteer organization in front of a temple, in New Delhi, India, January 1, 2013.
Impoverished and homeless people stand in a queue to receive free food from a volunteer organization in front of a temple, in New Delhi, India, January 1, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
In India, the government has begun rolling out an ambitious plan to replace subsidies with direct cash payments in a bid to eliminate graft. The government says the cash transfer plan will benefit millions of poor people, but questions have been raised about how it will work.

Since the start of the new year, 245,000 people across 20 districts in India are getting pension and scholarship money transferred directly into their bank accounts, instead of having to wait to receive it from post offices or bank officials.

Officials say when fully implemented, the cash payments will help fix a broken-down system for the delivery of subsidies that amount to nearly $58 billion a year.

The impact of these welfare measures on reducing poverty has long been questioned, because subsidies for food and fuel are often siphoned off by corrupt officials or people are forced to pay bribes to receive them.

India’s Finance Minister P Chidambaram calls the cash transfer scheme a “game-changer” for poor people. “There will be no leakage. There will be no rent seeking anywhere in the system. The beneficiary will not have to pay any kind of money to get his benefit,” he explained.

India is modeling the scheme after efforts in Brazil and Mexico where such experiments have been successful. It hopes to use a biometric electronic number being given to every citizen to transfer the cash into their bank accounts.

But doubts have been expressed about how the scheme will work in the vast country of 1.2 billion people. Only 40 percent of Indians have bank accounts and only 36,000 out of the country’s 600,000 villages, where the poorest live, have banks.

Even some people who have bank accounts have voiced their preference for getting food rations rather than cash. One of them is Kanta Das. She lives in a poor neighborhood in New Delhi and participated in an experimental program to study the switch from food rations to cash.

Kanta says her family opted to receive rations in place of cash, because the money was often spent by household members on other items. As a result, she says, her young children got less food.

The government says it is proceeding with caution and for the time being, it will not switch to cash transfers for food and fuel subsidies.

However, Finance Minister Chidambaram hopes the cash transfer scheme will save the government billions of dollars by eliminating fake beneficiaries and middlemen.

“No one person can receive two benefits under the same scheme using two identities and no one can falsify an identity and get a benefit," he asserted. "That will result in considerable savings to the exchequer. The efficiency gains are incalculable. Today the system has to go through several layers, it is a maze.”

Opposition parties have voiced concerns about the cash scheme, calling it a ploy to buy votes before general elections which are due next year.

The government says that by the end of the year, it hopes to expand the new policy through most of the country.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs