Ranchi/New Delhi: Aadhaar-based biometric authentication failures continue to deprive the poor ration card holders of their grain entitlements under the public distribution system (PDS). They have to face hassles (often leading to denial of ration) due to the mandatory procedure.
Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), every household below the poverty line is entitled to 5 kgs of grain for each member registered on the card every month at nominal prices (35 kgs per household for Antyodaya cardholders).
However, ration has not been distributed in some villages for several months. People of Ulirajabasa, a village in Khuntpani Block in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, did not get ration in September-December 2018 and February 2019, for one month in 2017 and for three months in 2016. Residents of Ankolkuti village, under the same block, have not received their grain entitlements during August-September and November-December 2018.
Internet unavailability adding to woes
Even though the ration shops are in their villages, the 315-odd tribal families in the two villages have to travel 3 km to another village just for Aadhaar-based biometric authentication required for getting their grain entitlement, as their villages do not have adequate internet connectivity.
Meena Bodra, a resident of Ulirajabasa village, said, “Not only do the people have to spend money for the travel, they also have to lose their daily wages; sometimes for 2-3 days. And after all these hassles, biometric failure continues to deny cardholders their grain entitlements.”
Another resident, Kande Purty, was denied his ration for the month of January 2019 as his fingerprints did not work in the PoS (Point of Sale) machine.
People unequivocally said that the earlier system of ration distribution (through registers) was better than the current biometric-based system.
Cancellation of large number of ration cards
While some vulnerable families are yet to get their ration cards, the cards of many marginalised families have been cancelled recently.
Asai Bodra, a resident of Paseya village at Khuntpani block in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, who is physically disabled, said that she could not collect her ration for the month of February 2018, as her ration card was cancelled without even informing her.
Banubinj village’s Naguri Hembram said that she and some other families have stopped getting ration since July 2017 as their ration cards were cancelled.
Also read: Aadhaar – A Weapon of Mass Financial Destruction?
People said they had complained to the block administration several times, but the issues remain unresolved. And therefore, hundreds of the villagers of Khuntpani block protested at the block administration’s office against the denial of ration, use of Aadhaar and other irregularities in the PDS.
They also submitted the attached memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Raghubar Das to the Block Development Officer (BDO) demanding grain entitlements pending for earlier months be immediately given to the cardholders and the government should ensure timely delivery of ration every month. Other key demands include: Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system (PoS machine) be removed from the PDS and Aadhaar be made non-mandatory, earlier system of ration distribution (through registers) be implemented, license of all concerned ration dealers be cancelled and women self-help groups be given responsibility for distribution, families whose ration cards have been cancelled should be immediately re-enrolled in the Public Distribution System, administrative action be taken on all officials responsible for denial of ration and deletion.
District admin acknowledges problem
Arva Rajkamal, deputy commissioner of West Singhbhum district, admitted the problems being faced by the residents of Khuntpani block. “I have asked the marketing officer for an explanation and a report which will be acted upon. We are taking steps to ensure that no one is deprived of mandatory entitlement of monthly quota of food grains,” he said.
The Jharkhand government on February 5 made it mandatory to link Aadhaar with ration cards in order for a household to receive its ration under the PDS.
The Aadhaar of 68.8 lakh out of 2.62 crore registered in the PDS – according to official figures on the state’s food department website – are yet to be linked with family ration cards. Going by the experience of the last few years, the government’s decision to make Aadhaar linkage mandatory could lead to widespread denial of grain entitlements.
In February 2017, the Central government made Aadhaar-seeding and Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) mandatory for availing ration in PDS. The notification – and similar ones after – states that even if the Aadhaar of only one member of a household is linked with their ration card, the family must receive the total quantity of grain entitled to it.
Also read: Aadhaar: A Sinking Ship?