Farm loan waivers, Aadhaar linking and the role of MahaOnline: Maharashtra IT secretary's claims debunked

Barely four days in, the Winter Session of the Maharashtra Assembly has already seen its fair share of agitation with the Opposition parties taking out a protest march against the government on Tuesday and 103 MLAs asking the same question of the government on Wednesday. The source of their ire: The flawed implementation of the farmer loan waiver scheme, also known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojna.

In order to get some clarity about the present state of the loan waiver scheme, Firstpost contacted the state's IT secretary SVR Srinivas, who issued a few clarifications. Unfortunately, these are riddled with contradictions:

The usage of Aadhaar for farm loans

"Aadhaar continues to be our primary and very major match parameter. In addition to Aadhaar we are using loan accounts, savings accounts, IFSC codes, dates of birth and last names as well. This ensures that if Aadhaar is wrongly input by applicants, we can cross-verify other parameters, so we pick the right loan accounts. We have all this data from the applicant's side as well, so it is easy for us to match with bank data. The observation that we have dropped Aadhaar for matching is incorrect," said Srinivas.

Reality check: Firstpost has repeatedly commended the government for making Aadhaar mandatory for disbursal of loan waiver. Aadhaar is the best method available to establish identity and eliminate ghost accounts and duplicate accounts. But as this Firstpost report on 24 November points out, a failure rate of 97 percent in matching the names of applicants with the list of beneficiaries provided by the banks forced the government to delink Aadhaar from the process and to rely entirely on the data supplied by the banks. Further, if the entire system (as announced in June) was predicated on Aadhaar, what was the need to collect all the other data? Conversely, if the idea was to ultimately use "loan accounts, savings accounts, IFSC codes, dates of birth and last names as well" why did the government insist on banks providing Aadhaar numbers as well, knowingly fully well that seeding of Aadhaar with bank accounts was at a nascent stage across the country? It is widely acknowledged that it is the insistence on Aadhaar-linkage that has caused all the delay. So by now when the government says that other data is also being used for validation raises the question: was the government then wrong in making Aadhaar mandatory?

File image of SVR Srinivas. Screen grab from YouTube

File image of SVR Srinivas. Screen grab from YouTube

Erroneous bank data

"Bank data needed huge scrutiny as it was erroneous and inconsistent and hence, the proper process to correct that also was going on in parallel. This is just to ensure that no farmer is left out on account of wrong data," said Srinivas.

Reality check: As reported by Firstpost and then reaffirmed by former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, banks have bungled up the process massively, so much so that Nashik DCC Bank chairman handed in his resignation. If the IT secretary was aware that bank data needed huge scrutiny, what was the logic in the government's reliance on it in the first place?

The role of MahaOnline

"MahaOnline was primarily involved in ensuring that bank data and matches happen correctly. It is also involved in solving bank data issues and making sure every record is treated correctly," said Srinivas.

Reality check: MahaOnline had enlisted the services of Innowave to develop software to match the two lists (applications filed by farmers and details submitted by banks) and come up with one masterlist of beneficiaries. As stated earlier, the masterlist threw up a failure rate of 97 percent. This clearly indicates that it was Innowave and not MahaOnline that was in charge of ensuring correct matches.

'Top class' software

"We are using top class software algorithms and data analytics tools. Doing such an exercise manually will take more than a year and will have too much human intervention which we did not want."

Reality check: 'Top class' software algorithms and data analytics should not throw up such a massive failure rate. The best software algorithms are just as good as the data that is input. The data from banks was so rancid that the algorithms didn't help. They threw up a tiny list of validated beneficiaries. After that, the government has had to resort to multiple changes in the rule engine (how a software is programmed to identity a valid beneficiary). Srinivas is right to the extent that such a process couldn't have been done manually and using a software was the best and fastest way available. Except that the data from banks tripped the software and caused a delay of more than six weeks.

Documented SOP

"There is an SOP for every action. Everything is documented so that banks know what is to be done," said Srinivas.

Reality check: Government officials told Firstpost off the record that documentation had not been carried out. As the dirt hit the ceiling on 16 October, the government, in trying to make sense of the mess, changed the rule engine multiple times in order to match the lists but not all of that is on record. Unless the government makes public what the rule engine was before October 16 and what it is today, there is no way of telling how well documented this process was. But one thing is obvious from how the events and have unfolded – and also from Srinivas' clarification – that rules for validating beneficiaries were changed (from Aadhaar-mandatory to Aadhaar-also).

Government taking action very fast

"The rapid increase in numbers is made possible by a combination of three factors viz updating computational logic dynamically, single interface with banks through the portal and continuous meetings with banks every alternate day for iterations based on feedback. The government is taking action very fast. No wonder banks also started responding speedily in feedback as well as disbursement. This should not cause any surprise at all," said Srinivas.

At the time of writing, Firstpost is investigating this claim. The proof of the pudding is in tasting it. The success of the waiver scheme is in farmers seeing the money in their bank or receiving debt-free certificates from the banks. There is very little evidence of that (as this report reveals) and the sooner the government releases the list of beneficiaries who have actually "benefited", the better.

Published Date: Dec 14, 2017 11:54 AM | Updated Date: Dec 15, 2017 06:43 AM

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