"Ensuring Last mile connectivity in benefit transfer"
Formed in January 2012, District Balrampur – Ramanujganj of Chhattisgarh has a total population of over 7.3 lakh individuals residing in 340 Gram Panchayats and six Nagar Panchayats. Most parts of the district are covered in thick forests and undulating terrain which makes delivery of government schemes to remote parts of the district a real challenge for the District Administration.
A large population of the district is poorly covered under the formal banking system. There is one bank branch serving 19, 743 people in the district compared to the national average of one bank branch per 9,515 people. Citizens residing in most villages have to travel long distances to avail simple banking services like opening of accounts and withdrawing cash. Before the launch of Project Biometric-pur, delivery of government schemes was a big challenge for the District Administration as disbursement of cash for schemes like wage payments, pensions, etc. was mostly done through the traditional paper-based system which invariably suffered from inordinate delays and leakages. Monitoring of these schemes was also difficult. This problem required immediate redressal through the use of information technology and mobile banking.
Benefit disbursal using Aadhaar
Thus, Project ‘Biometric-pur’ was conceptualized to transform the inefficient disbursement system into a real time hassle-free benefit delivery system that could deliver multiple services to each and every villager at their door step. The Project would enable delivery of multiple G2C and B2C services along with various banking services to the people. With almost 5.06 lakh biometric accounts opened and linked with Aadhaar, payments for almost all government schemes can be directly transferred to beneficiary accounts from the District.
A total of 12 schemes including labour wage payments, salary payments of village level workers, tendu patta collection bonuses, pensions etc. have been identified initially which will enable direct transfers of almost Rs. 210 crores into beneficiary accounts. All processes under the project, right from account opening, cash transfers and disbursement of cash by Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) are IT enabled and linked with Aadhar. Each Gram Panchayat has been provided with Internet connectivity through the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) Project and VLEs have been provided with laptops, printers, scanners and biometric devices. The project will also enable delivery of various citizen centric services like electricity and telephone bill payments, mobile phone recharges, ticket reservations etc through the Common Service Centre (CSC) web portal.
Aadhaar linked two-step biometric authentication
Aadhaar linked two-step biometric authentication is carried out before processing any transaction in order to ensure that payments are processed in a secure manner. VLEs who act as Business Correspondents of the bank have been provided with standard certified and quality checked biometric devices by Punjab National Bank. Moreover, the project is entirely based on existing technology platforms and no specific issues with the technology adopted have been identified. Irregular electricity supply and lack of Internet connectivity are challenges that the project faces especially in rural hinterlands. These challenges are being overcome by use of solar inverters and fibre optic Internet connectivity through National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN).
About the Project
i) Baseline study:
A basic line study to understand the financial needs of the citizens of the district and the existing modes of payments of various schemes was done to understand the problems plaguing the system and the major causes for delay.
ii) Problems identified
Many people surveyed, especially, the women either did not have bank accounts or were unaware of the various facilities they could avail from the bank. Another difficulty they faced was the distance they had to travel as the nearest bank branch was often located at a distance of 10 kilometres or more. Villagers had to travel to banks multiple times to enquire if their payments under various schemes had arrived and to withdraw cash which resulted in huge wastage of time, effort and money.
iii) Project roll out
The implementation of the project began with selection of Village level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) from each Panchayat. A panel of three to seven VLEs has been created in each Panchayat. They are trained in basic computer operations, banking services and usage of the CSC portal. Every VLE was encouraged to purchase his/ her own laptop with an assurance that the amount would easily be recovered from the commissions earned. Other necessary facilities like printers, scanners have been arranged in the Panchayat building through Panchayat funds. Internet connectivity is being provided through the National Optical Fibre Network Project which is being rolled out in the entire district.
The first phase of the project entailed opening of no frills biometric accounts of all citizens and linking with Aadhaar. Existing web portals developed for CSCs are being used along with the banking portal provided by Punjab National Bank for Business Correspondents. These portals have inbuilt mechanisms for data sharing and interoperability between different user access levels and portals. Direct payments for various schemes are being channeled through these accounts. Besides this, VLEs have simultaneously started providing other IT enabled services using the CSC web portal.
iv) Communication and information dissemination
Lack of awareness about banking services was a major hurdle. Project Biometric-pur has overcome this through project discussions in Gram Sabhas and Block level meetings with various village level functionaries. VLEs have played a major role in dissemination of information through word of mouth, banners, posters in local languages and wall writings.
Citizen Centricity of the Project
i) Impact on effort, time and cost incurred by user:
The system has reduced time and effort required for disbursement and withdrawal of payments at the customer level as well as the district and block level. Most transactions can be carried out in real time and status tracking option is available for facilities like account opening and bill payments. Thus, the system has reduced hassles involved for the villagers as they don’t have to repeatedly travel long distances to visit bank branches for small transactions.
ii) Feedback/ grievance redressal mechanism:
VLEs act as agents of the government at the village level to record feedback about the system and report grievances which are addressed at the block and district level. The entire system has been set up in a transparent fashion with status tracking available at the VLE level itself. Thus any customer can avail general information about his bank account, status of payments, etc. from the VLE itself.
iii) Audit Trails:
All the transactions are done online with a systematic Audit Trail available. Online status reports are generated through CSC and PNB kiosk banking portal for each and every transaction done through these portals. VLEs have been instructed to provide all information related to services availed by any customer in the village. Moreover, automatic receipts are generated by the Morpho device used for all financial transactions after biometric authentication.
iv) Interactive platform for service delivery:
VLEs act as the user interface for the entire system with sufficient delegation of power to provide the end benefactors i.e. the villagers with status updates and information whenever required with them. Automatic interactive platforms for service delivery may be put in place at a later stage through the use of micro ATMs at the Gram Panchayat level.
Efficiency Gains from the Project
i) Volume of transactions processed:
Since the implementation of the project, 5.06 lakh Jan Dhan accounts have been opened mostly of villagers residing in the most backward villages of the district. Wage Payments and tendu patta collection bonuses with total disbursements amounting to more than Rs. 160 crores are being channeled through these accounts and payments for the PMSBY and PMJJBY will also be linked with these accounts.
(ii) Coping with transaction volume growth:
The entire system has been designed to be self – sufficient and revenue generating which will in turn ensure its scalability and sustainability. VLEs have earned handsome commissions out of the service provided and hence are encouraged to provide better services to the citizens.
(iii) Time taken to process transactions:
Most financial transactions like withdrawals and deposits happen in real time through internet enabled banking portal. Bill payments, mobile phone recharges etc. can also be done in real time through the system. Certain services like account opening may take up to two days to be completed.
(iv) Accuracy of output:
The entire system is based on two – step biometric authentication system linked with Aadhar based on standard specifications and norms, vastly reducing the chances of errors and misuse.
Under Project Biometric-pur, there has been an increase in the gamut of services available at the Panchayat. Multiple services piggy backing on the same network has helped reduce cost of delivery of these schemes tremendously. The VLEs have been trained in using the CSC web portal as well as the Punjab National Bank kiosk banking portal which have both been developed in a easy to use user friendly way. Poster, Banners and wall writings in local languages are being used to communicate the provisions of the scheme to the rural populace. All this has helped make the entire model scalable and sustainable.
The Project ‘Biometric-pur’ has altered the processes involved in delivery of financial services to rural citizens at multiple levels. At the district level, officials who were forced to dependent on information from block and village officials for monitoring status of implementation of schemes can now do so from their own offices as information related to disbursement of funds is directly available. At the block level too, officials do not have to waste time and energy for distributing cheques and then continuously monitor that the cheques are delivered to the right beneficiary.
Compiling information about implementation of schemes has become a lot easier. VLEs too have started earning substantial incomes by providing these services with some VLEs earning up to Rs. 50,000 in just one month.
Most importantly, villagers are able to avail most services at the Gram Panchayat itself and do not have to travel long distances for these services. Moreover, the system has encouraged people to deposit their earnings in saving accounts as they are assured of withdrawing cash whenever required. This has also allowed them to withdraw cash in smaller amounts rather than large chunks as was the case earlier.