So many social welfare schemes for the poor, who benefits?

The United Nations’ observes October 17th as the International Day for Eradication of Poverty with a goal to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” In Bengaluru, as in many other cities, there is no dearth of government welfare schemes for the poor. But do these schemes reach the poor in reality?

The Central and State governments announce new schemes and programmes for the benefit of the poor every year, but how many of these schemes reach the bottom of the pyramid in reality?

According to a news report, in August 2016, the Karnataka government changed the rules for BPL card holders, reducing the number of eligibility conditions to be fulfilled for obtaining the card from 14 to just four. According to estimates the total number of BPL card holders in the state today is 90 lakh. The new rule with simplified guidelines for considering a family as BPL may have helped to add more number of families to the BPL ambit. But does it mean the families under BPL category get the benefits of various schemes that they are eligible to get? Not really.

Kaveri is a woman in her sixties living in Vallupuram slum near Srirampuram Railway Underbridge. She fumes when you ask her about the government schemes and facilities that a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family in Bengaluru is entitled to get. Living in the same neighbourhood for over 40 years, Kaveri, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, raised her three children by working as a domestic help and by selling vegetables when she was younger.

I ask her how the BPL card has helped her family over the years, and she replies with a grim face: “All that we get because of this card is the free ration – rice and wheat every month. The quantity of rice that we get too has also been reduced from 30 kg a few years ago to 12 kgs now. We aren’t the beneficiaries of any other government schemes,” she says.

In the bylanes of Swatantrapalya, hundreds of BPL families live struggling to make both ends meet. Pic: Akshatha M

With a list of various government schemes in hand, which includes free health schemes sponsored by the Health and Family Welfare Department, welfare schemes for girl children from the Women and Child Welfare Department, loan programmes for scheduled caste communities by the Social Welfare Department, I probe her further. Kaveri, while holding her one-year-old granddaughter in her arms, begins to talk.

Was her granddaughter registered under the State government’s Bhagyalakshmi scheme? She replies in the negative. The Bhagyalakshmi scheme was launched in 2006 to incentivise the birth of the girl child in BPL families. The scheme promises insurance and cash amount to the girl child once she attains the age of 18.

The reason for not having the child registered under the Bhagyalakshmi scheme, is that her daughter-in-law’s name has not been added to the BPL card.

“We have tried several times to add my daughter-in-law’s name to the BPL card. We have visited the food office (Food and Civil Supplies office) five times in the last few months and every time they would send us back saying the computer is defunct. Because of this, we could not register the only girl child in the family under the Bhagyalakshmi scheme,” she says.

Govt schemes are far away from reach

Citizen Mattersspoke to a dozen BPL families mostly belonging to Scheduled Caste communities living in three different settlements – at Swatantrapalya slum in Srirampura, Vallupuram in Malleswaram and Ejipura. And it appears that Kaveri’s case is just the tip of the iceberg.

What transpired from these conversations is this: the only and common benefit that most BPL families get from the government is the free rice and wheat, sugar and a few other commodities at discounted rates. Most of the other welfare schemes, be it in health, education or social welfare, do not reach the intended beneficiaries which is perhaps reason why the standard of living of the urban poor has not improved much over the years.

Take the case of Hemavathi and Vijay Kumar, a couple living in Swatantrapalya, a notified slum. Vijay who was born and brought up in Swatantrapalya continues to live in the same locality even today. He is a contract worker with the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). As I read out the list of schemes to him to understand if he is aware of them, or if he is a beneficiary of any of those schemes, he nods.

He says, at 49 now, he is neither aware nor interested to know about any of the schemes. “Years ago when I was young, I did make attempts to avail of government benefits. I had an employment card, but never got a job. I had applied for a loan to buy cattle for dairy farming, but the government did not sanction that loan. That was when I lost hope in these government schemes. Now I work and earn my livelihood and somehow manage the show,” he says matter of factly.

Despite tens of social welfare schemes for the marginalised, lives of BPL families has not changed to a greater extent. Pic: Akshatha M

His family of four is unaware of the Karnataka government’s health scheme Vajpayee Arogyashree (VAS) or the central government’s Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). VAS was launched in 2012 with the aim to provide better medical treatment in case of catastrophic illness to BPL families through empanelled super speciality hospitals. The much older RSBY provides an annual coverage limit of Rs 30,000 to a BPL family for most diseases and conditions that require hospitalisation.

What would the family do in case of a major health ailment? Vijay’s wife Hemavathi says they usually visit the nearest government hospital. “Private hospitals charge a hefty fee and we cannot afford them. We do not know of any health scheme apart from the free treatment provided in the government hospitals for BPL families,” she says.

From the conversations, it is fairly clear that a majority of BPL families like that of Vijay and Kaveri are in the dark about most government schemes, and this constitutes one of the reasons behind the schemes not reaching the poor.

The second bottleneck

It takes time and money (call it bribe or commission) to get one’s application approved. Ganesha, a tailor who lives in Swatantrapalya says he tried to get loans sanctioned under the micro-credit finance scheme sponsored by Dr B R Ambedkar Development Corporation to start a business.

“I was not selected as a beneficiary despite being eligible. I was told that one should have political connections to avail such schemes. I cannot spend my time and money running behind local politicians or bribing the officials to have my name figure in the list. For us, the daily wage matters and we cannot afford to waste our days visiting government offices or pay the agents to get our work done,” he says.

For many like Ganesha, for whom the day’s earning is critical to survival, running from pillar to post to get the schemes sanctioned is little short of a nightmare. The easy way to save time is to go through an agent in their locality who is experienced in “dealing with such applications.” But then it comes at a price.

Kaveri’s attempt to get old age pension reflects the situation. At Vallapuram, Kaveri is eligible to get monthly pension of Rs 400 under the Sandhya Suraksha Scheme for senior citizens. “I spoke to a man in our area who handles the scheme-related applications. I was told that I should pay Rs 5,000 which will be given to those in the government offices to get the pension sanctioned. I said, if that is the case, I do not need pension,” she says.

For Yashaswini, a first year B.Com student from a BPL family, applying for scholarship reserved for SC students has turned out to be a strenuous process. “I have been applying for scholarship every year right from the time when I was in the 8th standard. But I haven’t got the amount even once. Despite being eligible and fulfilling all the criteria, I was denied the scholarship. Worse, I do not know the reason behind it,” she says holding the copy of an yellow application form that she has submitted this academic year.  

For the urban poor who are often also illiterate, it is a challenging task to navigate the procedure to avail government benefits. Right from filling application to visiting government offices, they end up seeing it as a challenge and give up on availing the schemes.

Migrants who do not even get ration

If the above stories reflect the sad state of affairs of one section of BPL card holders, there is yet another section among the poor population who are denied even free ration. They are the migrant population who come to Bengaluru from different parts of the country or the state in search of livelihoods.

While they have BPL cards registered in their hometowns, it is of no use once they shift to a different city. The families need to submit a request to the food office where their name was previously registered and surrender their BPL card. The surrender certificate has to be produced at the food office where they apply for a new BPL card with the changed address.  Due to the lack of information on how to go about transferring the location of BPL cards and finding the process ‘complex,’ the poor and marginalised families end up struggling to buy even their monthly ration.

Mallikarjuna and his family of five migrated from Bellary district to Bengaluru eight years ago. They got their BPL card when they were in Bellary. As the system does not permit them to get government benefits in Bengaluru using the same card, they continue to buy ration from shops.

Living in a shed on the pavement of Ejipura, Mallikarjuna, a daily wage labourer, says he has no clue about any other government schemes. “If we had a BPL card here, it would have helped us to get free food at least. But I do not know how to change the BPL card location or if it is even possible,” he says.

It is not rarely that we hear of grandiose schemes to enable better living for the poor in our country, but in Bengaluru as in many other cities, the government has a long way to go before their anti-poverty programmes really reach the deserving beneficiaries.

The next part of the story will explain what is the government’s take on the schemes not reaching intended benificiaries? How can they improve the system to make the benefits reach poor?  

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