Calcutta, Nov. 28: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ambitious plan to replace the leak-prone subsidy regime with direct cash transfers to bank accounts of beneficiaries may get delayed in Bengal because of tardy progress of biometric enrolment of residents in the National Population Register (NPR).
Data available with the state's directorate of census operations, which is overseeing NPR biometric enrolment, show that only 18.8 per cent of the population has been covered under the exercise till November 26.
The process, after a pilot project in Howrah, started in Bengal with Calcutta in July 2011. It has been started in the districts too. The authorities had set a March 2013 deadline to complete the process.
"The deadline has now been pushed to November 2013 as work is yet to start in three districts ' North Dinajpur, Bankura and Purulia," a census directorate official said.
The biometric enrolment in NPR is the first step for Bengal residents to get the Aadhaar number, a 12-digit individual identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on behalf of the Centre. The number will help in opening bank accounts, which the Centre will use to directly transfer cash to the beneficiaries under various heads ' ranging from scholarships to students to subsidy on LPG cylinders to households.
C. Chadramouli, the registrar general of India (RGI), told The Telegraph: "There is scope for improvement in Bengal's performance."
The RGI is steering the process of NPR biometric enrolment through a consortium of central public sector undertakings, including BEL, ECIL and ITIL, that in turn has involved several service providers to carry out the exercise across Bengal districts.
These service providers, selected through tenders, are setting up enrolment centres in schools, colleges and government offices. Residents are coming to the centres to enrol their details and get their fingerpints and iris scanned and photographs clicked.
Once the enrolment is done, the service providers uplink the data to the UIDAI data centre for verification, following which unique Aadhaar numbers are generated and sent to individuals through post. The outcome of the exercise is generation of National Resident Identity Card (NRIC).
"The entire process is getting delayed because of some ground-level problems, such as non-availability of venues where enrolment centres can be set up. Lack of awareness among residents is another problem," a senior census directorate official said.
According to him, the state administration is responsible for extending support to the service providers to start operating and spreading awareness by involving enumerators, who are supposed to visit homes to inform residents about enrolment dates.
A progress report drawn up by the directorate of census operations and sent to home secretary Basudeb Banerjee earlier this month mentioned that till now, only 1,005 of the targeted 3,330 biometric kits had been installed in the state.
Census officials said non-availability of venues was one of the major reasons for the poor utilisation of the kits, which include a laptop, fingerprint scanner, iris scanner and a camera.
One biometric kit can process around 60 enrolments a day, sources said.
"The state administration is also supposed to monitor the progress of NPR biometric enrolment and haul up service providers that perform below capacity. But that has not been done yet," an official said. Names of some of under-performers have been mentioned in the status report sent to the home secretary, he added.
Banerjee said he was not aware of any problems over non-availability of venues, adding that the census directorate was responsible for the completion of the exercise on time.
D. Ghosh, the director of census operations, Bengal, admitted that problems in setting up enrolment centres in some districts were resulting in delays.
"There are other problems as well as service providers do not have trained manpower, who need to pass a UIDAI examination to carry out the operation. Inefficient handling by some service providers is also resulting in delays…. But we will start ramping up the exercise soon and complete it by next November," Ghosh said.
The target that Ghosh has set himself, however, will be difficult to meet, said some directorate officials.
According to latest data, of the 8,22,12,962 eligible residents of Bengal ' enrolment is done for those aged five years and above ' only 1,54,54,600 have been covered till now, which means 6,67, 58,362 people are yet to be covered.
"Even if they perform at the best of their efficiency by using all the 3,330 kits, they will not be able to meet the target," an official said.
The failure in meeting the target will come in the way of the aim the Prime Minister has set to provide Aadhaar numbers to 60 crore people by 2014.