In the open discussion that followed, participants brought up issues for discussion regarding NREGA and UID. These were addressed by Dr. Joshi and Shri Nilekani.
Jahnavi Andharia wanted to know about the process being adopted for verification for the UID, as also the cost involved. Also what happens to migrant populations?
Shri Nilekani responded that the system for verification and identification of beneficiaries to be covered by UID is an extremely important one, especially given that the poor are being sought to be included. However, the process has not yet been finalized and the UID has been seeking inputs from various ministries including the Ministry of Rural Development. Regarding cost he said that while the UID is at a nascent stage and the costs are not clear yet, going by observed enrolment costs for other benefits such as PDS, it should come to about Rs.43 per head. Compared to the scale of benefits, this cost is well worth it. Shri Nilekani also said that migrant would benefit the most because when they migrate their UID migrates with them as well. A problem often faced by migrating people is the need to establish their identity in the destination they migrate to. This is taken care of by the UID.
Gazala Paul expressed concerns about the confidentiality of the UID information and what safeguards are in place to protect citizens from misuse. Shri Nilekani responded that the information maintained by the UID database would not be accessible to anyone. He said that the UID database would simply be used to identify a person as being who she says she is on the basis of the fingerprint and name. The person querying the UID database cannot read the information that is stored since the database will not give out information on the person when queried but will simply confirm whether the person is who he or she claims to be.
Ravi Kumar pointed out that there is a need to saturate the lands of SCs and STs under NREGA development work. However, at present the MIS is unable to give us an idea about the degree of saturation of such lands, i.e., information on land belonging to SC/ST families, how much of it is treated and how much is left is not available. He also said that after treatment work on such land is carried out, there is also need for productivity enhancement work, such as composting, to be undertaken on them.
Dr. Mihir Shah further clarified this point and said that while a recent order specifically allows land treatment work to be undertaken on SC/ST lands, there is a suggestion, especially given the context of Andhra Pradesh and the spate of farmer suicides in the state, that NREGA funds should be used for agricultural operations as well.
Dr. Joshi responded that the spirit of the Act is simple. It aims to provide wage employment through manual labour. As far as the MIS is concerned, it needs to be updated and maintained properly at the GP level. The MIS only gives supplementary information.
S.S. Ghanti wanted to know from Shri Nilekani how much time it would take for the UID to rollout? Shri Nilekani said that their aim is that the first set of UIDs should be given out in 12 to 15 months time.
Dr. Shah informed Shri Nilekani that there has been a discussion amongst consortium partners on whether the UID should become mandatory or not, with views being expressed on both sides. He requested Shri Nilekani to clarify his view on the matter since he had always emphasized that the UID would be a voluntary process.
Shri Nilekani said that especially from the point of view of the poor, making enrolment compulsory is neither practical nor desirable. Since it will take several years before enrolment is universal, the poor will be denied benefits under government schemes if the UID is made mandatory. This is not a fair outcome. The way the UID would want to move ahead is to roll out the numbers and then wait for different stakeholders to pick them up. So if NREGA decides to make its job cards UID-enabled then UID will ensure that the cards are UID enabled.
Shri Nilekani further clarified that the UID would not be a card but a number communicated on paper to the beneficiary who has enrolled. The beneficiary would then use it for transactions carried out by him or her.
Dr. S.K. Pattnaik pointed out that some state governments stop NREGA work in the rainy season in order to make labour available for agricultural operations. Dr. Joshi said that the law is very clear. There is no call to stop work in any particular season since this is a demand driven programme.