RTI reveals significant gender gap in opening of PM Jan Dhan Yojana bank accounts

By Venkatesh Nayak*

Readers may recall reading my despatch from earlier this month about the data discrepancy in the implementation of the scheme of ex gratia payment of INR 500 (i.e., US$ 20 where every US$ 1 = INR 74.69 as on 26th March, 2020) per month to more than 20 crore (200 million) women under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) COVID-19 relief package. On 28th August, 2021, the Union Finance Ministry had claimed that a sum of INR 30,945 crores (or INR 309.45 Billion = US$ 4.143 Billion) had been deposited in the no-frills Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) bank accounts of women belonging to weaker sections and low income groups of society as part of this ex gratia payment scheme over a three-month period in April, May and June, 2020. I had pointed to the numerous discrepancies in the implementation statistics voluntarily disclosed by the Union Finance Ministry on the one hand and on the other, the district-wise data which the Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) supplied under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). I had also explained in my previous despatch, how multiple Government Departments tried to dodge their responsibility of making the district-wise implementation data, public, last year. 

While waiting for the district-wise implementation data, I had made another RTI intervention seeking State and Union Territory-wise (UT) data about the number of PMJDY bank accounts opened across the country as part of the Central Government’s financial inclusion scheme. The Department of Financial Services (DoFS) which looks after the PMJDY programme supplied the data in November 2020. Now I have used that dataset to calculate the proportion of the PMJDY bank account-holders who are women at the time of the launch of the INR 500 ex gratia payment scheme under PMGKY. In this sequel to my previous despatch, preliminary findings from a comparative analysis of the datasets obtained from MoRD and DoFS and information accessed on the PMJDY website are given below:

1) The data furnished by DoFS reveals a significant gender gap in favour of women in the coverage of the financial inclusion scheme of PMJDY during the period before and during the galloping spread of the COVID-19 pandemic;

2) While Andhra Pradesh accounted for the highest percentage of women PMJDY account holders (more than 88%) in March 2020, in neighbouring Telangana women accounted for less than one third (32.76%) of the total number of the PMJDY accounts opened before the spread of the pandemic;

3) In the national capital- Delhi women accounted for around 45% of the total number of PMJDY accounts that existed before the start of the COVID pandemic; and

4)  Interestingly, more than two-thirds of the  5.25 crore (52.5 million) new PMJDY accounts opened after the onset of the COVID pandemic belong to women.

Please continue reading for details of this intervention and the comparative analysis.

The RTI Intervention

While waiting for a positive reply for State and UT-wise implementation data relating to the ex gratia payment scheme to the 20 crore plus (200 million plus) women, a search on the websites of Parliament revealed that, during the Budget session in March 2020, an MP (Independent, Assam) had sought details of the number of PMJDY bank accounts opened since the inception of the financial inclusion programme. However, the dataset itself had not been uploaded along with the Q&A on the website of the Lok Sabha (Lower House). So in September 2020, an RTI application was filed with DoFS with two simple queries stating as follows:

“Apropos the Answer tabled by the Hon. Minister of State for Finance in the Lok Sabha to Unstarred Question No. 3513 on 16th March, 2020 (copy attached), I would like to obtain the following information from your public authority:

1) A legible electronic copy of the Annexure mentioned at paragraph no. (a) of the said Answer, and

2) A legible electronic copy of all correspondence and file notings and annexures, to both of them, if any, held in paper and electronic form relating to the preparation of the said Answer.

Kindly note, the Annexure referred to at paragraph no. (a) of the said Answer has not been uploaded on the website of the Lok Sabha, as on date. Therefore I am constrained to make this formal request.”

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) simply did not bother to respond to the RTI application. After waiting in vain for more than 40 days, a first appeal was filed with DoFS’s Appellate Authority on 26th October, 2020. The First Appellate Authority stated in her decision dated 19th November, 2020 that the CPIO had already sent the information requested in the RTI application. The CPIO’s response along with the dataset arrived by Speed Post on 4th November, 2020. Interestingly, the CPIO had dated his reply to 12th October, 2020. A quick check on the website of the Department of Posts revealed that the envelope containing the CPIO’s reply had been booked for despatch, via Speed Post, only on 03 November, 2020. This appears to be a case of backdating the CPIO’s reply- an exercise in which the FAA also might be complicit. 

Meanwhile, the CPIO cced his RTI reply to the Under Secretary, Coordination Section of DoFS for uploading the dataset on the website of the Lok Sabha. At the time of sending this despatch, the Annexe containing the dataset has not been added to Unstarred Q&A No. 3513 on the website of the Lok Sabha, nor is it traceable on DoFS’s website or that of PMJDY.

The RTI application, the text of the Parliamentary query, the first appeal filed due to lack of response from the CPIO, the FAA’s decision and the dataset supplied by the CPIO along with a file notings and related correspondence are given below.

Preliminary findings from the comparative analysis of the datasets

According to the datatable in the Annexe, that ought to have been attached to the reply to Unstarred Question No. 3513 tabled in the Lok Sabha, (but which has not been done till date) which the CPIO supplied in response to the RTI intervention, there were 3,822.12 lakh or 38.22 crore (382 million) PMJDY accounts opened across the country as on 04 March, 2020. Today, that figure has risen to 43.47 crore (434.7 million) account holders (male, female and perhaps transgender also). Of these, 24.15 crore (241.5 million) PMJDY account holders are women. 

However, by the end of June 2020, there were only 20.64 crore (206.4 million) women beneficiaries who received the ex gratia payments under PMGKY. If we assume that not too may new PMJDY bank accounts would have been opened between the tabling of the reply in Parliament (on 16th March, 2020) and the announcement of the various components of PMGKY, 10 days later, on 26th March, 2020 or between the date of the PMJDY status update, i.e., 04 March, 2020 and the announcement of PMGKY, three weeks later, it is possible to deduce what proportion of the then existing PMJDY account holders are women by comparing the DoFS dataset with that supplied by MoRD (both furnished under RTI). Our preliminary findings from the comparative analysis of the two datasets are given below:

  • According to DoFS, there were a total of 3,822.12 lakh (i.e., 38.22 crores or 382.21 million) PMJDY accounts as on 04 March, 2020. So if we deduct 2,064.26 lakh (20.64 crores or 206.4 million) women beneficiaries who actually received the ex gratia payment under PMGKY for three months in 2020 (April-June) as per MoRD data supplied under the RTI Act, the number of male account holders would be 1,757.86 lakhs (17.58 crores or 175.8 million). Women PMJDY account holders constituted more than half of the total (54.01%). In fact, at the time of writing, women PMJDY account holders constitute 55.55% of the 43.47 crore  (434.7 million) account holders, according to the PMJDY website– an increase of almost 1.5%. So the data shows, women PMJDY account holders outnumbered men in 2020 and 2021- the years for which we have gender breakups;
  • Further, a comparison of the 2020 and 2021 data shows, at least 5.25 crore (52.5 million) new PMJDY accounts have been opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, till date. Of this, more than two thirds (i.e., 66.86%) or 3.51 crore (35.1 million) are women account holders;
  • However, when we look at the State and UT-wise PMJDY account holder data for the year 2020, the picture looks quite different in several States and UTs. One would expect the gender ratio to be reasonably even but that is not the case in several States.  First, while women PMJDY account holders in the 29 States accounted for 54.15% of the total of 3,748.24 lakh (i.e., 37.48 crores or 374.82 million) PMJDY accounts as on 04 March, 2020, their proportion in the nine UTs was only only 46.89%, i.e., less than half of the total;
  • Among the 29 States, Andhra Pradesh (AP) recorded the highest percentage of women beneficiaries at 88.32% of the total number of PMJDY account holders belonging to that State in March 2020. Meghalaya takes 2nd place with more than 67% PMJDY account holders being women, followed by Kerala at 3rd position with more than 60% PMJDY account holders being women in March 2020;
  • The States of Assam (59.48%), Nagaland (58.17%) Tamil Nadu (57.46%), Arunachal Pradesh (55.95%), Jharkhand (55.81%), Himachal Pradesh (55.76%), Bihar (55.66%) and Rajasthan (55.37%) recorded more than 55% women PMJDY account holders out of the total for those States reported in March 2020; 
  • In the States of Chhattisgarh (54.63%), Manipur (54.58%), Odisha (54.35%), Karnataka (54.26%), West Bengal (53.21%), Uttar Pradesh (53.06%), Maharashtra (52.53%), Uttarakhand (51.50%), Madhya Pradesh (51.40%) and Tripura (50.17%) women PMJDY account holders constituted more than 50% of the total figures reported for those States in March 2020;
  • Despite Andhra Pradesh reporting the highest percentage, neighbouring Telangana recorded the lowest percentage of women PMJDY account holders among all States at less than one third (32.76%) of the total figure reported for that State in March 2020. The States of Goa, Sikkim, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Mizoram reported between 41.92 – 49.52% women (in ascending order) among the total PMJDY account holders reported for those States in March 2020;
  • Among the UTs, Andaman and Nicobar Islands recorded the highest percentage of women among PMJDY account holders at 61.22% in March 2020, followed by Puducherry at second place with 59.12% and Jammu and Kashmir in third position with 50.68%. Lakshadweep was the only other UT where the proportion of women among PMJDY account holders was 50% of the total in March 2020. The remaining UTs reported between 47-30% (in descending order) women among PMJDY account holders during this period. Daman and Diu recorded the lowest percentage of women at 30.36% (less than a third of the total) while the national capital Delhi recorded a little more than 45%;
  • Region-wise, interestingly, the seven States in the northeastern part of India along with Sikkim reported the highest percentage (58.71%) of women among PMJDY account holders in March 2020 followed by Southern India (AP, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) which is marginally lesser at 58.44%. Women in the Eastern Indian States of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha accounted for 54.67% of the total number of PMJDY accounts reported during the same period, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in Central India with women constituting 52.41% of the PMJDY account holders during the same period.  In Western India, women in the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa accounted for 52.37% of the total figure, followed by Northern India (States of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, UP and Uttarakhand) where women accounted for 52.19% of the total number of PMJDY account holders reported in March 2020. As said earlier, only 46.89% of the PMJDY account holders in the nine UTs  were women in March 2020.

A spreadsheet containing the dataset which forms the basis of the above analysis is given below along with an MS PPT containing a graphical representation of the data and findings.

Concluding remarks

There is a lot that both MoRD and the Finance Ministry have to publicly account for, regarding the manner of spending INR 30,000 crores+ (or US$ 4 Billion+) on the PMKGY ex gratia payment scheme for women PMJDY account holders. This is not an ordinary sum. In addition to domestic budgetary support, a significant proportion of the expenditure has been incurred by way of low interest rate loans secured from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. So the taxpayer is not only footing the bill during the pandemic but will continue to do so until the loans are repaid. In addition to the demand for greater transparency in the implementation of the ex gratia payment scheme made in my previous despatch, it is important that the names of these beneficiaries be made public, district and State, UT-wise. This will enable community-based organisations and regional media to cross-check the figures that are contained in the various datasets released under the RTI Act. Equally important, DoFS has a duty to make district-wise numbers of PMJDY account holders public, along with gender break-up and explain if any household benefited more than once from the ex gratia payment scheme. 

According to the 2001 Census data (HH-1 Series), there were 19.26 crore (192.6 million) households across the country (rural and urban areas included). This figure rose to 24.84 crore (248.4 million) households in 2011 (HH-1 Series) – an addition of 5.57 crore (55.7 million) households or an increase of 28.93% over the previous figure. The 2021 Census exercise has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we conservatively estimate that an equal number of households, if not more, were added since the 2011 Census, the total number of households at the end of the year 2020 might be 30.41 crores (304.1 million). As the total number of women PMJDY account holders who benefitted from the ex gratia payment scheme under PMGKY is 20.64 crores (206.4 million), the average number of women account holders per household works out to more than 1 (1.47 actually). It must also be remembered that PMJDY is intended to include only the low income and weaker sections of society. In other words, individuals belonging to only a subset of the 30.41 crores (304.1 million) estimated households are eligible for enrollment. So the average number of women account holders might be higher than 1.47. We will not know the exact tally until the Government discloses household-wise figures of PMJDY accounts opened up till date. 

In other words, a large number of households seem to have more than one PMJDY bank account opened up under the financial inclusion programme. According to the data tabled in the Lok Sabha in response to Unstarred Question No. 3513, more than 54.01% of the 3,822.12 lakh (i.e., 38.22 crores or 382.21 million) PMJDY accounts belong to women. So male account holders constituted only 45.99% of the total. At the time of sending this despatch male account holders make up only 44.44% (19.32 crores or 193.2 million) of the 43.47 crore (434.7 million) PMJDY. The gender gap has only increased in favour of women since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it is reasonable to expect that several households might have multiple women account holders. 

What we do not know currently is whether the ex gratia payment scheme under PMGKY benefited more than one woman PMJDY account holder in one household while another household simply did not get covered despite having at least one woman PMJDY account holder. In its June 2020 Press Note issued to announce the progress made in implementing PMGKY, the Union Finance Ministry claimed that the 2nd and the 3rd instalments of the ex gratia payment released amounted to 100% coverage. Academics and researchers will require granular data to not only verify the Government’s claims but also conduct sociological analysis of the phenomenon of financial inclusion through PMJDY and the impact of the ex gratia payment under PMGKY on low income households.

I hope readers will make these demands for greater transparency in their own States, UTs, districts, towns and villages by filing RTIs or through their elected representatives in Parliament and the respective State and UT Legislatures. The file-notings supplied by the CPIO, DoFS along with the dataset, indicates that granular data about PMJDY accounts is available with State Level Bankers Committees (SLBCs). Every SLBC has a dedicated website but to the best of my knowledge SLBCs do not mention details of any PIO. In every State, a public sector bank (PSB) is the Convenor of the SLBC. Such PSBs are squarely covered by the RTI Act. So RTI applications may be filed with the PIO of the concerned Convenor Bank to seek granular information about PMJDY accounts and the cash transfers made under PMGKY.

*Transparency Advocator, New Delhi/Bengaluru. Click here for Graphic Representation of Beneficiary Data

Postscript:

One of my esteemed readers has commented on my despatch sent a few minutes after it was released, suggesting that the average figure for women PMJDY account holders should be calculated in the reverse that is PMJDY account holders (20.64 crores or 204.6 million) divided by the estimated number of households across the country (30.41 crores or 304.1 million). Then the average figure will fall to less than 1 (0.68 actually). I leave it to the readers to make their calculations as they think best. As the Financial Inclusion Scheme under PMJDY is now extended to every unbanked person in India, the core issue about multiple beneficiaries receiving benefits under the ex gratia payment scheme would still be valid. The picture will get clearer only when granular data is disclosed publicly.

— Venkatesh Nayak

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