By Nishanth K, Dvara Research
In this ongoing series, we will cover stories of citizens who have been excluded from social protection benefits delivered through the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and Public Distribution System (PDS). In collaboration with Gram Vaani*, a grassroots-level social tech company, we document the stories of beneficiaries who have faced challenges in welfare access in M.P., Bihar, U.P., and Tamil Nadu.
In our previous case studies, we have highlighted points of exclusion in the enrolment and the cash-out stages of G2P payment mechanisms. In this case study, we illustrate instances of exclusion during the backend processing of such payments. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown, many state governments have introduced cash transfers for various vulnerable groups, including informal workers, pensioners, farmers, etc. This blogpost discusses the case of an unorganised sector worker who, along with many other workers, did not receive the cash entitlement into her bank account under Tamil Nadu’s relief package for registered workers of various welfare boards in the state. The exact reason for the failure of crediting the labourers’ bank accounts is yet to be understood, and that itself demonstrates a certain degree of opaqueness in how G2P cash transfers are processed at the backend.
Parvathi Kumar, a resident of a small village in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is a home-based handicrafts worker who makes baskets and sells them locally. She has been a registered member of the Tamil Nadu HandicraftWelfare Board (TNHWB) since 2010 (her renewed membership is valid till 2021). Like most workers, Parvathi and her family were unable to work or earn a living during the lockdown and were depending on the local government for support to tide over the distress. In June 2020, she was notified by the local postman that, as a registered member of the TNHWB, she was eligible to receive payments of up to Rs. 2000 in two instalments of Rs. 1000 each. This was part of Tamil Nadu government’s COVID-19 relief package. She was informed that the cash transfer would be made to a new postal bank account that had been opened for her. However, more than three months and multiple visits to the post-office and labour union offices later, she has been unable to find out why she has not received the cash benefits offered by the state.
Parvathi is not the only labourer who has been unable to receive these cash transfers. Labourers across multiple districts of Tamil Nadu have been unable to receive the cash transfers that they are eligible for. The reason for the credit failure of these payments is yet to be completely understood. During the lockdown, the state had announced a cash transfer for unorganised sector workers registered with the different labour welfare boards to ease the stress of the pandemic-induced lockdown. While Tamil Nadu has a strong labour welfare system and has used this system to provide welfare benefits to workers in the state, there have been some issues that have surfaced since the pandemic outbreak. According to a response to a Right to Information (RTI) petition filed in July 2020 in the district of Dindigul in Tamil Nadu, only about 77,000 out of approximately 2.4 lakh unorganised sector workers (including building and construction sector workers) were able to avail these cash transfers. The RTI response also reveals that information about bank-account linkage with welfare board registration ID does not exist at the district-level. It must be noted that some of these cases are currently being resolved with labour union workers and civil society actors are helping labourers in resubmitting their documents during the weekly grievance days at taluk office or the district collector’s office.
Although the Madras High Court has issued directions to the state government to enumerate and enlist all unorganised workers under the respective welfare boards, delivery mechanisms of welfare benefits to workers already registered remain precarious. There is another interesting dimension to the mechanism of government cash transfer to workers in Tamil Nadu. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the state collaborated with the India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) to open new savings accounts for unorganised sector workers. Given the prevalence of the postal network, making payments to workers through these accounts would have been made easier under this partnership. On her first visit to the post office, Parvathi was provided with an India Post Payments Bank ATM card and informed that she would receive an SMS when the amount was credited.
Not having received any benefit, Parvathi and 12 other residents of her village continue to try resolving this issue. They have even resubmitted their documents through a complaints box at the district collectorate office in August but to no avail.
The ad-hoc nature of how these cash transfers were deployed also adds to the lack of understanding of their backend processes. Parvathi’s case demonstrates that registration of an unorganised worker under a welfare board does not always translate into receipt of welfare benefits for the worker. Further, the lack of a streamlined system of filing complaints and grievance redressal exacerbates the challenges beneficiaries face even when trying to get included back into the system. Effective operating procedures for last-mile facilitators (state or non-state) and grievance systems are also required to protect against exclusions. Given the number of actors involved in the delivery of cash transfers, how can grievance redressal be streamlined to make it more beneficiary-centric? Dvara Research and Gram Vaani are keen to study this further and build frameworks that will guide the design of better grievance redressal pathways.
A working framework to study exclusion in social protection has been employed to analyse this case, mapping points of exclusion across the four key stages of scheme design and delivery as detailed here.
*The author would like to thank Aaditeshwar Seth, Lamuel Enoch, Ponnuchamy, Eswaramoorthy, Bruno Richardson and the Field Operations team at Gram Vaani for facilitating these case studies.
 Interventions of States in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak – Dvara Research. (2020). Retrieved 31 October 2020, from https://www.dvara.com/research/resources/notes/interventions-of-states-in-response-to-covid-19-outbreak/
 J, S. (2020). Covid-19 lockdown: Tamil Nadu govt sanctions Rs 130crore relief fund for members of welfare boards | Chennai News – Times of India. Retrieved 31 October 2020, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/covid-19-lockdown-tamil-nadu-govt-sanctions-rs-130crore-relief-fund-for-members-of-welfare-boards/articleshow/75085249.cms
 The real name has been anonymised to protect the citizen’s identity.
 Tamil Nadu Handicraft Welfare Board established under the Tamil Nadu Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Work) Act, 1982, is responsible for maintaining and administering the Tamil Nadu Handicraft Workers Social Security and Welfare Fund. See here for more details.
 Out of the 2.4 lakh workers in the district, only 1.47 lakh workers had renewed their memberships in 2016.
 Based on conversations volunteers and staff of Gram Vaani In Tamil Nadu
 Enumerate and enlist all unorganised workers in 34 welfare boards, HC directs government. (2020). Retrieved 31 October 2020, from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/enumerate-and-enlist-all-unorganised-workers-in-34-welfare-boards-hc-directs-govt/article32460511.ece
 This has been done even though they may already have a bank account linked to their labour card.
 Narayani, P. (2020). IPPB helps unorganised sector workers avail COVID-19 relief. Retrieved 31 October 2020, from https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/ippb-helps-unorganised-workers-avail-covid-19-relief/article31651969.ece
 Falling through the Cracks: Case Studies in Exclusion from Social Protection – Dvara Research. (2020). Retrieved 31 October 2020, from https://www.dvara.com/research/social-protection-initiative/falling-through-the-cracks-case-studies-in-exclusion-from-social-protection/