We hope we will get

We hope we will get a solution in the Supreme Court, I don’t think they have considered the crisis global warming is creating today. As a result,street level bureaucrats meant to manage and allocate welfare benefits have incentives to depend on political brokers When eligibility becomes brokeredthe costs of weak implementation are disproportionately borne by those who lack the moneysocio-political capital or time to personally queue for servicespay middlemen or make deals with intermediaries to facilitate priority in accessing the welfare state Despite criticism by Jairam Ramesh the rural development ministeron the nature of employment and assets createdNREGA is held up as an example of a rights approach to poverty reduction that accords dignity to the demands made by the poorlimits the role of administrative discretion and bypasses middlemen Howeverthese causal claims are contested Wage payments remain erratic In the absence of planning expertiselocal governments are unable to generate enough employment projects for the rural poor Meeting legislated mandates induces bureaucrats to under-report the mismatch between supply and demand for employment to avoid court cases and paying unemployment allowances A rights-based approach to pensions can only work for the poor if the state is able to both meet the inherent fiscal demands and engineer a responsive bureaucratic ecology This requires administrative re-organisation and investments in implementation for three reasons Firstsocial pensions are different from public works programmes The need to do manual labour to receive wages deters the non-poor from seeking employment through public works But pensions are pure transfers and so everyone wants oneespecially if the cash amounts are large Thereforeeither one has to budget for everyoneor set criteria to exclude someone But if you can exclude someoneyou can exclude anyone Eligibility decisions are fraught with tension and hence require immense sophistication and skills to implement Secondmaking pensions universal does not make the politics of paperwork redundant The poor must prove they exist in the world of administrative records Many suggest that the UIDonce linked to bank accountscan make universal pensions paperless Howeverthe majority of those on the Aadhar database already possess proof of residence Those without documents rely on letters of introduction from an array of government staff and politicians to provide credibility to their claims of citizenship AgainUID registrars have discretion in allowing such ID-less individuals to gain registration The ministry of home affairs has frowned upon the use of introducers for security concerns Thuschances for those without any pre-existing identity documents to apply for Aadhar registration and pensions look dim Finallyuniversalising access to pensions does not change the incentives for administrators and citizens to depend on middlemen Consider Delhi Despite large budgetary allocationsfirm political commitmentrelaxed documentary and eligibility requirementsthe slum-dwelling poor still face serious problems in proving residence and eligibility Applicants rely on politically powerful middlemen to aid their quest for documents and pensions Accessing such actors is too costly and cumbersome for the poorest and most marginalised sections of urban society Even in a resource rich state such as Delhiwhere the poor are excluded by the way eligibility determination is donecreating a universal right to pensions could yield perverse outcomes Expanding the number of applicants increases the need to use social and political connections to jump the queue The ultra-severe poor without connections or documents could face longer wait times and lower chances of receiving benefits compared to status quo Exclusion could become worse if the criteria are poorly implementedthe power of brokers and the entrenched elite is unaddressedand budget constraints on pensions are binding all three of which are real possibilities An alternative approach focuses on bolstering capability to recognise and meet the claims of the poor by building on existing functional channels For examplein Delhisimple measures like organising enrolment or documentation camps in slumswhereby citizens can gain required paperwork and signatures from local area representativescould expand access to pensions Such fora reduce the costs faced by administrators in reaching the poorwhile subsidising the costs of queuing for poor urban citizens Rights do not eliminate the need for administrative reform Even if the government had funds for universal pensionsthe mechanisms for pro-poor implementation would still be missing Implementing a universal right requires changes in how the poor prove citizenshipaccess courts and apply for schemes; and in how bureaucracies are trainedfunded and staffed There is a larger concern here By using the rhetoric of rightswithout shoring up the commensurate resources to incentivise and enable their implementationthe state risks further delegitimising the rights discourse and disenchanting its own citizens Without building legitimacyrights-based approaches cannot fulfill their potential Legitimacy can be built by getting things done rightnot by rights alone You cant legislate your way to good implementation Pritchett is professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Bhattacharya is a graduate student of public administration at the Kennedy School For all the latest Opinion News download Indian Express App More Related News

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