A government-commissioned sample study to ascertain the efficiency of Aadhaar-based social programmes - in this case subsidised grains - has thrown up some disappointing news: technical hiccups are depriving the poor of their access to food.
In Andhra Pradesh, half of the beneficiaries in the surveyed areas couldn’t access their ration quota due to glitches, lack of training and mismatches linked to Aadhaar. The study was ordered by the state after complaints that disbursal of grains had suddenly dropped for a month this year.
The findings could mask larger problems with the ambitious switch to Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric identity project every citizen must have for delivery of social benefits, especially in poorly governed states.
In the survey, a majority of beneficiaries reported fingerprint mismatches and fair-price shop owners’ inability to operate point-of-sale (POS) devices correctly as major hurdles. Aadhaar numbers did not match with ration card numbers in many cases.
The NDA government plans to robustly defend the UPA-conceived Aadhaar, which has been challenged in the Supreme Court, mainly on the grounds of privacy. Activists argue that a technology-driven platform like Aadhaar could lead many to fall through the social safety net, especially migrants.
On the other hand, the NDA government’s dossier on Aadhaar, which HT has viewed, says limiting the programme would have a “deleterious” effect on social schemes because it is vital to plugging leakages eating into the government’s finances.
On August 12, the government won a reprieve when the SC, which had earlier ruled against making Aadhaar mandatory, allowed its use for the public distribution system (PDS) and cooking gas.
In the study that focused on about 125 fair price shops, of the 85,589 ration card holders, 50,151 could not procure grains due a reason linked to Aadhaar integration. The scale of the problems is astounding, given that the study covered five PDS outlets in three districts: Prakasam, Nellore and Anantapur.
“It is not clear if the manual distribution of ration was done because the dealer genuinely did not have knowledge of using the POS machine or if the dealer was attempting to discourage people from using POS machines. However, the beneficiaries stated that the dealer did not have good knowledge of using the POS machine,” the study states.