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Governance, Digital ID, Biometrics, Financial Inclusion, Service Delivery, Subsidy Reform, Health Financing
Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development where he works on issues of governance, public finance, and service delivery in developing countries. His current research focuses on the impact of biometric ID and digital payment systems to reform public subsidies, improve financial inclusion, and promote gender empowerment. Previously, he coordinated a CGD Working Group on Fiscal Transfers for Health that provided recommendations to improve the effectiveness and coordination of health financing in decentralized countries for better outcomes.
Prior to joining CGD, Mukherjee was an associate professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi from 2005-2013 where he designed and implemented innovative citizen-led public expenditure tracking surveys in education and health. As a policy advisor to the world’s largest biometric ID program, Aadhaar, he was involved in the design of direct benefit transfer of subsidies in India. Previously, Mukherjee has served as MDG financing advisor to the Government of Yemen, worked as a consultant for the World Bank and UNAIDS on financing of HIV/AIDS programs in Asia-Pacific, and designed gender-focused social protection as advisor to the Commonwealth Secretariat. Mukherjee studied economics at Presidency College, Calcutta, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and obtained a PhD in policy and planning sciences from the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and has been cited in major news outlets including Bloomberg, BBC, Financial Times, and NPR. His latest book, Social Sector in a Decentralized Economy: India in the Era of Globalization, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.
For the policymaker looking to improve services and the delivery of benefits, or for the financial institution trying to expand its customer base, the gap between technical solutions and the situation of the average technology user represents fertile ground for the many new opportunities that the digital economy provides.
India’s reform of household subsidies for the purchase of LPG cooking gas stands out for a several reasons. The paper provides a detailed picture of the reform through its various stages, including how the process was conceptualized, coordinated, and implemented. It analyzes how such a reform must be able to adapt to concerns as they arise and to new information, how digital technology was used and how it is possible to use a voluntary self-targeting “nudge” to defuse potential resistance to income-based targeting.
India’s tax revenue distribution reform creates the world’s first ecological fiscal transfers (EFTs) for forest cover, and a potential model for other countries. In this paper we discuss the origin of India’s EFTs and their potential effects. In a simple preliminary analysis, we do not yet observe that the EFTs have increased forest cover across states, consistent with our hypothesis that one to two years of operation is too soon for the reform to have had an effect. This means there remains substantial scope for state governments to protect and restore forests as an investment in future state revenues.
India’s shift towards direct benefit transfers (DBTs) is on the fast track. According to official statements, in the 2015-16 fiscal year the central government deposited nearly $5 billion of subsidy and welfare payments directly into the bank accounts of 300 million beneficiaries. It has also set an ambitious target to transfer all payments to the Aadhaar-based biometric DBT platform by the end of 2017. This will surely be the greatest subsidy reform in the world, but we need more data to accurately evaluate its impact.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers in South Asia and East Africa walk many miles crossing rivers, mountains, deserts and farmlands to do something amazing: reach remote rural communities to assess whether children can read or do simple maths. Collectively known as Citizen-led Assessments (CLA), every year they show that most children are going to school but less than half of them can read or write at grade level. However, in spite of these universally damning reports, policy change to improve children’s learning has been painfully slow. So the NGO Pratham that started this movement is turning its army of volunteer data collectors into change agents to mobilize entire communities and raise awareness about the learning crisis across India.
The state of Rajasthan in north India has become the digital frontier, with a program that registers all family members under a single identity document known as the “Bhamashah Card,” but it still has to overcome significant challenges of poverty and inequality. In a state that is similar in size and population to Germany, it is no small achievement to take on the ambitious task of providing each family with a unique ID and deliver it within a short span of three years.