SEWA model shows cash transfers work

SEWA model shows cash transfers work

Since 2010, three overlapping pilot schemes have been testing how unconditional cash grants could be expected to work in India. Altogether, over 6,000 individuals have been receiving monthly cash grants, including all men, women and children of nine villages in Madhya Pradesh.

A public conference at which the evaluations of those pilots will be presented will take place at the Indian International Centre Conference Hall, New Delhi, on May 30-31, 2013.

The Minister of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, will open the Conference, along with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chair of the National Planning Commission. The Minister is also the Cabinet Minister in charge of rolling out cash transfers across India. Other very senior government and international agency dignitaries, from the UN, World Bank and so on, will also be participating. Officials from various government departments, academics and social activists are expected to attend, as are representatives of the media.

The largest of the pilots was based on a randomised control trial methodology (RCT). In this, a random sample of 8 villages in Madhya Pradesh was selected, where every man, woman and child received individually a monthly cash benefit each month for 17 months, with the money for each child going to the mother or surrogate mother if she was dead or absent.

To evaluate the impact on health, schooling and so on, 12 other similar villages were drawn as a control group, in which nobody received the transfers. To assess the effects, a series of evaluation surveys were designed, beginning with a baseline census of all households in all 20 villages undertaken just before the launch of the cash payments.

Having done a listing of all households and individuals living in the villages and the baseline census, an Awareness Day was held in each of the 8 villages chosen to receive the cash grants. This involved a mass meeting of villagers, when our local team informed the villagers that they would be receiving the money, that it would be unconditional and paid universally, and that nobody would intervene to say how the money could or should be spent or used.

All recipients were required to open a bank account or a cooperative account within three months of receiving the first payment, which was handed out on formal registration. After that, the money was paid directly into their accounts. Initially, every adult was to receive 200 Rupees per month and every child under the age of 14 was to receive 100. This was later modified to be 300 Rupees and 150 Rupees respectively.

After nine months, an Interim Evaluation Survey (IES) was conducted in all 20 villages, covering all the subjects on which we had hypothesised there would be an impact on status, behaviour and attitudes. The IES covered a random sample of households, and gave a special focus to issues of implementation and “financial inclusion”.

After 12 months, a Final Evaluation Survey (FES) was conducted, which was a full census of all households and individuals in the 20 villages. After the pilot ended, a Post-FES survey was conducted, mainly to obtain personal impressions of the experience and the impact on the disabled, adolescents and the elderly, groups often neglected in such schemes.

A feature of the MPUCT pilot was a design intended to test the following general hypothesis, that cash grants have a series of positive effects but that the presence of a Voice mechanism in the community would make some effects more pronounced. Accordingly, half the villages selected for cash grants had SEWA already established in them, half did not; and the control villages were also split into half having SEWA, half not.

The series of evaluation surveys were complemented by some detailed case studies. And a Community Survey was conducted in the villages at the beginning and end of the experiment.

The other two pilots were smaller-scale. A sample of 450 low-income households in western Delhi were offered the alternative options of either continuing to receive subsidised food and kerosene in the ration shops or switch to receiving cash grants equivalent to the monetary value of those rations.

The third pilot was in a tribal village in Madhya Pradesh. In this case, for 12 months, every man, woman and child received a cash benefit of 300 Rupees, if an adult, and 150 if a child. For comparisons, a similar tribal village was chosen as a control group. As in the larger pilot in Madhya Pradesh, a baseline census was followed by an Interim Evaluation Survey and a Final Evaluation Survey.

The main objective of the evaluations was to determine the effects on such crucial developments as living conditions, including sanitation, health, nutrition, schooling, work, labour and production, consumption, savings and debt, women’s status and decision-making roles, and the effects for socially disadvantaged groups, including scheduled castes and the disabled.

The project has been coordinated by SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India, working in collaboration with Professor Guy Standing, of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and with others who have made important contributions. The pilots have been funded mostly by UNICEF, New Delhi, which has seen it as a research project that could advance the debate on cash transfers in India and elsewhere.

The Conference will be open to the media. A variety of proponents and opponents of “cash transfers” are being invited, and there will be special sessions on all the crucial subject areas, such as nutrition, health, schooling and economic production.

An Op-Ed piece on the study by Guy Standing appeared in the Hindu newspaper. It is online at:

Further details could be obtained from SEWA (Renana Jhabvala or Sarath Davala) or Professor Guy Standing ( Provisional findings could also be provided, if interested.

A short video of initial results can be seen on the following:

About Yannick Vanderborght

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