Cash transfers: Raman Singh (Chattisgarh), Mrs. Munda (Jharkhand)

See: Raman Singh steals a march over UPA on food security
What’s wrong with the use of Post office Savings Accounts? What is so magical about Aadhar that PC is exuberant about? — Kalyan

How Mrs. Munda Makes Cash Transfers Go

By Krishna Pokharel December 26, 2012

Dohakatu Panchayat
Kalawati Devi Munda

India’s massive cash-to-the-poor program, set to launch officially on Jan. 1, isn’t going anywhere without the help of people like Kalawati Devi Munda.

Mrs. Munda is the “mukhiya,” or leader, of a group of four villages in eastern Jharkhand state known as Dohakatu panchayat. Lately, she’s been racing to sign up locals for the cash transfer plan, which will deposit up to $58 billion per year in the bank accounts of some 90 million Indian households for an array of welfare programs and subsidies.

Dohakatu had a head-start on the rest of the nation because she lives in one of a few trial areas for cash transfers. Mrs. Munda, 28 years old, plays a vital role, explaining to residents what the benefits of cash transfers are — something many people don’t understand intuitively – and walking them through the process of signing up.

Her message: getting direct cash deposits is much more convenient and less prone to corruption than the current model of receiving welfare payments in cash at local post offices. She says cash deposits are the answer for locals who often don’t get their full salaries under a government rural job program because middlemen take a cut of the money before it reaches them.

“Now, every penny is accounted for,” she says. “The chances of contractors siphoning off funds have decreased.”

A key facet of the new program, she says, is that all cash transfers are linked to beneficiaries’ bank accounts using a 12-digit unique identification number that every Indian is in the process of being issued. These “Aadhaar” numbers ensure money gets to the people who deserve it, she says.

Mrs. Munda, a short woman with braided hair and a brightly-colored sari, speaks confidently but with a smile. Asked what the trick is to being an efficient mukhiya, she says: “Give time and importance to every person.”

On a recent afternoon, she was supervising at a community center in Dohakatu where some villagers were setting up new bank accounts to receive cash transfers.

Among them was Balak Munda, a 35-year-old laborer who works for a local mining company. He will soon be getting cash deposits to purchase kerosene, which is used for cooking fuel and lanterns. Up to now, he’s purchased kerosene from a government ration shop that sells it at a discount. Going forward, he’ll get a cash subsidy in his account so he can pay the market rate (about 45 rupees, or 80 cents, for a liter of kerosene).

Asked by a reporter what the benefit of the new system is, Mr. Munda, who isn’t related to Mrs. Munda, paused for several seconds. He wasn’t too sure. He looked at Mrs. Munda, who jumped in. She said the new system will be a huge improvement from the current setup, in which people can only buy kerosene on a few days per month – if they don’t show up on those particular times, the dealer can sell off their ration and pocket the profits. Now, she says, people will be able to “buy kerosene from any kerosene shop at their convenience.” 

Mrs. Munda, who is married and has two children, studied psychology at a local college in Ramgarh District. She then worked for six years as an “anganwadi,” a rural health worker providing government-sponsored facilities and care to children and expectant and new mothers. That exposed her to families working as day laborers in the rural job program and educated her about irregularities in the system. “The contractors weren’t paying the workers the full amount of their wages and there was no transparency, ” she said.

As she gained prominence locally, Mrs. Munda was encouraged by locals to run for panchayat leader in the 2010 elections. Under the ancient panchayat system, Indian villages have long elected elders – usually men – to govern local affairs. In 1992, the Indian government institutionalized elections to these local village bodies and gave them powers to implement development programs in their areas. To encourage gender equity, up to 50% of seats in panchayats are reserved for women. There are about 240,000 elected panchayats in India, according to the local government directory.

Sanjay Kumar Munda, Mrs. Munda’s husband, says he wasn’t sure about his wife making a foray into politics. The family had no political background, and running for any public office requires a lot of money. But he said he could see his wife was determined to “take up politics as social work” and use it as an opportunity to fight corruption in government programs.

The family, which earns about $1,000 per month from Mr. Munda’s salary as an engineer and a few other members’ income, financed her campaign. She won.

Mrs. Munda is responsible for a region covering 8,000 people. Her typical daily schedule involves visiting locals to tell them about government welfare programs. In localities like Dohakatu where almost half of the population is illiterate, public servants like Mrs. Munda are crucial to ensure government programs are properly implemented.

Pramesh Kushwaha, a government bureaucrat in Jharkhand who oversees implementation of development programs, says panchayat officials “are closest to the people and know their specific needs and demands.” He added, “People take them seriously.”

Mr. Kushwaha says he has found that women village heads are more effective than their male counterparts. “People are fed up with false promises of male politicians in the past, so they tend to trust female politicians more,” he said.

Some critics say women village heads are often just put forward as figureheads, with their un-elected husbands actually calling the shots behind the scenes. But Mr. Munda says that isn’t the case in his relationship with his wife. He says the only time he gets involved in Mrs. Munda’s work is to accompany her to late-night meetings so that she gets home safely.

“In her office, she takes all the decisions on her own,” he says. “In the family, we equally participate in decisions and responsibilities.”


About janamejayan

A Viraat Hindu dedicated to spread the message of Paramacharya of Kanchi
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