Government Data Shows Inconsistencies In Covid Lockdown Payments To Women

Cover image credit: PTI

New Delhi: On 26th March 2020, the Union Finance Ministry announced  a Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore COVID-19 relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). The relief package aimed  to minimise the economic impact of the nation-wide lockdown announced to contain the spread of Covid-19, on the “poorest of the poor”, according to Union Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman.

Under the PMGKY relief package, the government announced an ex-gratia amount of 500 rupees per month, for three months between April to June 2020 to 20.4 crore women account-holders of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) ( popularly known as Jan Dhan accounts) as direct cash transfer. The PMJDY is a financial inclusion program launched in 2014 to ensure affordable access to financial services for weaker sections of the society. As of September 2021, there are 43.29 crore beneficiaries of PMJDY, of which 56.4% are women. 

Data released by the government periodically on different fora, available in the public domain, 

 show inconsistencies in the number of beneficiaries, ranging from 1 lakh to 60 lakh, as recipients of the relief package. New data obtained from the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) through an RTI filed by transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak, show  even fewer beneficiaries than those proactively disclosed by the government. RTI reply also reveals a phenomenon of missing districts– women beneficiaries who received the relief money resided across 584 districts instead of 721 districts across the country. 

The direct cash transfers under the PMGKY to women’s Jan Dhan accounts were routed through the State Bank of India (SBI). The MoRD had directed SBI to create an online portal for monitoring these transfers. In response to a separate RTI filed by Venkatesh Nayak on 13th January 2021, SBI stated that they did not have any beneficiary related information, including account numbers, status of transfers and withdrawals, and state/UT or district of residence.

Discrepancies in data

The Finance Ministry released data on four occasions on the number of women account holders who were beneficiaries of the relief package under the PMGKY scheme. Three of these were press releases in the months of  June 2020, September 2020 and August 2021 and one was a written reply given by the Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Singh Thakur, in Lok Sabha on 8th February, 2021. Each of these have a different number of beneficiaries of the   relief package.

In March 2020, the government announced that  20.4 crore women account holders of the PMJDY would receive the Rs 500 a month package for three months. An update released in June 2020 stated that 20.05 crore account holders received the first instalment of the package, covering 98.3% of beneficiaries and a total disbursement of 10,029 crore rupees. The second instalment was given to 20.62 crore women account holders, with 100% coverage and a disbursement of 10,315 crore rupees. The update released by the finance ministry in September 2020, however, reveals that 20.65 crore women received the first instalment, 20.63 crores the second and 20.62 crores the third instalment, each time a 100% coverage. The second instalment beneficiaries between the June 2020 and September 2020 updates increased by over 1 lakh, even though the ministry stated that 100% beneficiaries were covered on both occasions. 

The Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Singh Thakur’s reply to the Lok Sabha in February 2021 puts the number of account holders who received the package at 20.65 crores. If the numbers presented in the Lok Sabha are to be considered, two lakh and three lakh fewer women received the second (May 2020) and third instalments (June 2020) of the relief package. 

District wise data obtained through RTI from MoRD states that 20,64,26,947 (20.64 crore), i.e 73,053 fewer women, received cash transfers under the PMGKY, which  was treated as part of the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM).

 A press note released by the Union Finance Ministry in August 2021 states that the  Jan Dhan accounts have witnessed a three-fold increase from 14.72 crore in March 2015 to 43.04 crore in August 2021. 55% Jan-Dhan account holders are women. Yet, the government’s own periodic updates of beneficiaries of the relief package show a decline in the number of women account holders.

The total payouts of the package also show some discrepancies across the several updates released so far. The September press release states that 30,952 crore rupees have been disbursed so far. However, the August update released by the ministry of finance states that 30,945 crore rupees were transferred to women Jan Dhan account-holders – a difference of 7 lakh rupees.

 These discrepancies apart, the amount disbursed by the government does not tally with the number of beneficiaries, even at its highest estimates. The Union Ministry of Finance’s estimate states that 20.65 crore beneficiaries were covered. At the promised package of 1500 rupees for 3 months, the government should have spent 30,975 crore rupees– a difference of 23 lakh rupees. This suggests that either fewer accounts were credited with the full amount of 1500 rupees or they were paid less than the promised amount

Missing Districts and Unspecified Districts of Residence

MoRD’s data shows that the 20.64 crore women beneficiaries of the relief package under the PMGKY are residents of 584 districts across the country. However when the ex gratia payment scheme was launched in April 2020, there were 721 districts — 557 in states and 27 in UTs — across the country. This raises a question about equitable coverage of all eligible beneficiaries across the country. It is unclear if women belonging to the missing 137 districts have been paid the ex-gratia amount under the PMGKY scheme at all. 

A separate dataset obtained from the Oil Marketing Companies: IOCL, BPCL and HPCL which implemented the supply of free gas cylinders to 8 crore families under the PMGKY COVID-19 relief package between April and June 2020, shows that the beneficiaries were covered in all the 721 districts.

While some districts like those of Manipur were carved out of existing ones in 2016 after the PMJDY scheme was implemented, several others existed much before the NDA-2 government assumed power in 2014.

Additionally, the districts of residence of 2,58,04,510 women beneficiaries (12.5% of the total 20.64 crore beneficiaries), who have received the ex-gratia payment under the PMGKY, are unspecified, i.e districts of their residence is unknown, in the MoRD’s dataset. 

This raises questions about the efficiency of monitoring of the fund allocation under the scheme. Since proof of residence is a mandatory requirement for the opening of a Jan Dhan account, it is unclear how the MoRD is unable to account for the districts of residence of these 2,58,04,510 women account holders across 20 states.

It is possible that the beneficiaries belonging to an unspecified district category may be assumed to reside in districts whose names are not mentioned. However, even after all districts of Andhra Pradesh are mentioned in MoRD’s list, there are 29.67 lakh beneficiaries in the unspecified category in the state. On the other hand, states of Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura do not have any beneficiaries in the unspecified category despite the fact that all districts in these states are not mentioned in MoRD’s list.

Uttar Pradesh tops the list of beneficiaries whose district of residence is unspecified.  The state accounts for 19.9% of such beneficiaries, followed by West Bengal with 15.16% of unspecified beneficiaries.

The expenditure for payment to women PMJDY beneficiaries under PMGKY was secured through low interest loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in addition to domestic budgetary support.

Eisha Hussain is a multimedia reporter at Behanbox. Her work has covered issues around gender and sexuality, displaced communities from conflict zones, and protest cultures.

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