Monday, 21 March 2016

Aadhaar Card – Grave Misery for the Disadvantaged Elders?

Image Source: Livemint 

Old-age brings with it, it’s own misery. In India of the 100 million elderly, more than 51 million live below the poverty line. They are supposedly entitled to pension and subsidized rations. The meagre Rs. 200 per person per month pension (under the IGNOAPS) reaches them late, not at all and in most cases after a payout to the corrupt disbursing authority. The Aadhaar scheme has been touted as the panacea to all these  ills.

While theoretically, the universal adoption of the Aadhaar card will permit direct disbursal of pensions and subsidies to the disadvantaged elders and others below the poverty line, ground realities appear very different.

The Aadhaar card is not proving to be inclusive despite the adoption of technology

The biometric recognition system militates against those with fading fingerprints or ageing irises. There is difference in fingerprint image quality across age groups, although most pronounced deterioration is found in > 60 age group. Error rate in biometric identification significantly increases with increase in age group. Aging results in loss of collagen; compared to younger skin, aging skin is loose and dry. Working with your hands — especially if it involves handling bricks, or other rough objects — can damage prints. The official rebuttal to this argument is that the Aadhaar also records iris information, so it doesn’t really matter. There are two problems with this — one, reading iris information itself is just as error-prone, especially in senior citizens with cataract issues. Secondly, most nodal agencies are loathe to install the costlier iris-reading software.

Pension and Ration is today disbursed using POS machine with finger print recognition. As far as Rations are concerned, the thousands of PDS outlets, are starting to be provided POS terminals. The last few months have shown dismal performance with majority of elders being turned back due to their finger recognition transaction not being successful. In fact it is reported that even successful recognition transactions are taking upto 8 minutes.  Even after poor, indigent elders are being issued with an Aadhaar card, their fingerprints are difficult to match, when they use the POS machines. POS machines connect to a Central Data Registry which houses the biometric details of the Aadhaar card holders. For the POS machines to work – the machines have to be error free, there has to be reasonably high quality internet bandwidth for the transaction to go through and most importantly electricity/battery availability.

The experience in the last few months has been that in majority cases, the elderly are turned away after long waits from POS / PDS shops due to one or the other above mentioned reasons. Now, there are manual overrides which have been permitted, which leads to corruption as is expected. So, what good is Aadhaar?

In the case of pensions, the problems are even graver. Earlier, elders had to go to their banks to withdraw pensions from their accounts. Often, the overcrowding at banks, and the elder unfriendly procedures caused distress. As a solution, a few months ago, Micro ATMs were started to be used, to disburse pensions. The e-Mitr Kendras were converted to Banking/ Business Correspondent (BCs) who authenticated identity of elders with a swipe on the micro-ATM machine.

BC is a representative authorized to offer services such as cash transactions where the lender does not have a branch. Primary role of BC is to oversee the proper development and functioning of indirect banking channels. These business correspondents are subject to RBI regulations and would have direct contact with one or more financial institutions. These BC’s charge a commission from the bank for enrollment of clients, transactions, deposits etc.

Initially only ‘not for profit’ entities were allowed to become B.C’s. However, off late RBI has eased the norms like inclusion of for profit entities and interoperability of business correspondents, aimed at helping customers in rural areas access banking services such as cash deposits, withdrawals, remittances and balance enquiries from anywhere in the country on the lines of ATM facilities available to customers in urban areas.

However, this gives impetus to major corruption as each time a poor elderly who cannot read/write places the thumbprint the transaction is authorized with the BC. When the fingerprint does not match, the elder is asked to swipe his smartcard on the POS terminal. Majority of the times, it is the BC who swipes the card and asks the technology unfriendly elder to provide his PIN number. In effect, the unsuspecting elder has just handed over control of his bank account to the BC. The potential of corruption and mischief is frightening with likelihoods of assuming staggering proportions.

The problem now
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced in the Union Budget that Aadhaar will be made into a law. In fact, the government is in such a hurry that they have already circulated the draft of the bill and decided to pass it as a money bill in this session, so as not to allow any Parliamentary delays in its implementation. This makes the Aadhaar card, and the important biometric information it stores, mandatory for many things. Most serious among this is access to ration and the public distribution system. The poor, who qualify for this, and are often the ones working with their hands, will be the worst-affected. Yet, the proposed law does not have any alternative provisions. It simply abandons those whose fingerprints have failed them, to their own devices.

Technology is expected to be an inclusive mechanism. In not thinking through an alternative for biometrics, the Aadhar technology could work in the exact opposite manner.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) conducted a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) study of biometric enrolment from March 2010 to June 2010 in the predominantly rural areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar. One of the objectives of the study was to measure the biometric quality that could be achieved in rural Indian conditions. The study that involved 135,000 biometric enrolments found out that Older people took longer (20% longer enrollment time) to enroll than younger people, and enrollees whose employment involved manual work took longer to enroll than the rest of the PoC population. For the system to be ‘called successful’ there should be at least about 98% accuracy, which is far cry as of now.  

Monday, 14 March 2016

Top Corporates Commit to Supporting Employees’ Ageing Dependents!

Picture Courtesy: Business Insider

Lately, one may have noticed the emerging trend of corporates doling out benefits for their white collared employees’ dependents - aged parents and parents-in-law, with an intention to minimalize the foreseeable anxiety that comes with being a caregiver. 
According to Economic Times, IBM India launched the Senior Care program, to help employees balance work responsibilities with caring for ageing parents and parents-in-law who require care. This allows the company to offer subsidized rates for noncritical but essential care services that employees could request online – saving them time and effort in the process.

The program contains various elements that make it appear promising – provision of escorted pick-up and drop service to elders for hospital/medical centre visits, home health aides or attendant services for 4-12 hour periods as back-up care, home visits by nurses for shots, as well as sample collection for medical tests from residence and delivery of the hard copy of the report.

This initiative will allow IBM to monitor the utilization of various services and, on the basis of the feedback received, decide whether updating existing services or adding new facilities to the existing provisions is required.

In November last year, Deloitte unveiled its Well Being Programme (WBP), under which employees' parents and parents-in-law are provided an avenue to reach out and seek support on financial advice, anxiety-related and other issues.

Advice is provided through an exclusive helpline."Many among the senior population struggle with a sense of relevance and isolation, besides requiring assistance with medical issues. Some may be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and have no idea how to deal with it," said SV Nathan, senior director and chief talent officer at Deloitte in India.

"The helpline is akin to a counselling service, but it's also more than that it's an outlet for our employees' parents and parents-in-law to talk about issues they're grappling with and thereby be able to reach out and ask for help." Even though India is riding the crest of a young demographic wave, sections of its population are also ageing. By 2021, the elderly in the country will number 143 million, according to a HelpAge India report last year.
Deloitte unveiled its Well Being Programme (WBP) in November last year, which aims at providing an opportunity to the elderly – a vulnerably section of society, grappling with issues of loneliness, isolation and depression – to reach out and seek financial and anxiety-related counselling.  One may avail this service through an exclusive helpline, which can be availed through an exclusive helpline.

Similarly, American Express offers a parental care program known as ‘Dil Se’, responsible for providing a 24/7 health helpline – a toll-free number for employees and their dependents. It offers customized preventive and therapeutic health care packages, consultation by senior doctors and diagnostics at discounted rates to ensure the well-being of its employees’ parents, reports Economic Times.

A welcome move from India Inc. indeed! 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Defying Ageing With Swords and Elegance, all at Once!

At 74 years of age Meenakshi Gurukkul defies the ageing process as well as all that is considered to be socially acceptable, as the oldest female champion of the ancient marital arts of Kerala – Kalaripayattu. As she crouches low with her sword clasped in one hand and her eyes unblinking, she is an awe-inspiring vision of poise.

Gurukkul has been tirelessly practicing, training and teaching Kalaripayattu - one of the oldest forms of self-defense, and a strenuous and deadly physical fighting system in the world – for nearly 68 years. 

Around 150 students learn Kalaripayattu in her school, Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam, in a tiny hamlet in Vadakara near Calicut, Kerala. 

Techniques have been passed down through generations, written in a palm ‘booklet’, delicate with age. When the school term is over, Meenakshi takes part in stage performances too. Such a brilliant definition of #ActiveAgeing.

This inspiring lady, who only seems to grow younger with age, is living proof that age is but a number.