Identity Project

An official Andhra survey shows why Modi government should stop pushing Aadhaar so doggedly

An audit of ration shops after the introduction of Aadhaar revealed that many genuine beneficiaries couldn’t collect food grain due to system glitches.

The Modi government’s insistence on the use of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based unique identification project, to weed out “ghosts, fakes, duplicates” from social welfare schemes is counterproductively excluding genuine beneficiaries from the programmes.

In Andhra Pradesh, an official audit conducted after ration shops adopted the Aadhaar system revealed that many genuine ration card holders couldn’t collect food grain due to fingerprint authentication failure and a mismatch of Aadhaar numbers. The audit was undertaken at five ration shops in three districts of Andhra Pradesh in May this year. At three of the stores, more than half the legitimate beneficiaries had to turn back without any ration.

The audit findings reveal the flaws in the Aadhaar project which the government obdurately maintains is essential to target subsidies for the deserving. Even though the Supreme Court, in August, ruled that enrolment for Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for government benefits, the order was challenged by the Unique Identification Authority of India, the Reserve Bank of India and other regulatory bodies.

On October 8, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar refused to modify the August order. It referred the matter to a larger bench.

Biometrics fail beneficiaries

Amid this uncertainty, there’s evidence of Aadhaar’s ineffectiveness.

Earlier this year, the Andhra Pradesh government adopted the Aadhaar system and installed electronic point-of-sale machines at fair price shops, or ration shops, to verify beneficiaries’ fingerprints. To get ration, every ration card holder now has to provide valid Aadhaar numbers for all members of the household, and then authenticate her fingerprints on the scanner in the point-of-sale device. (The device is connected to the database of biometric information collected during Aadhaar enrolment.)

The Andhra Pradesh Civil Supplies Department started distributing ration through this process in May this year. That month, at 5,358 ration shops, 6.87 lakh ration card holders of the existing 31 lakh beneficiaries (or 22%) didn’t take ration. At 125 ration shops, the figure was higher at around 58% – 50,151 of the total 85,589 card holders didn’t collect their ration.

Faced with such a difference, the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, a body set up by the Department of Rural Development to conduct social audits for government programmes, conducted a survey. It audited five ration shops in the districts of Anantapur, Prakasam, and Nellore, taking 20% of the “left over ration card holders” as the sample size.

The society found that in Cheemakurthi in Prakasam district, 69 of the surveyed 82 beneficiaries said their fingerprints didn’t match. In Allur in Nellore district, this problem was cited by 106 of 203 ration card holders. In Ongole in Prakasam district, 50 of 93 beneficiaries blamed the same problem.

Besides this, there were other failures. The survey discovered 35 beneficiaries from two slums who earlier used to get relatives to collect ration on their behalf because they worked in neighbouring villages. Under the new system, they missed out since it is mandatory for the beneficiary to be personally available to collect the ration.

In one instance, a ration dealer in Mudigubba allowed the beneficiaries to collect their rations manually without Aadhaar authentication, but in the system they showed up as beneficiaries who did not collect their rations. This opens the possibility of them being incorrectly getting counted as “fakes or duplicates”.

While the government wants to extend Aadhaar to a number of schemes and services, the findings in Andhra Pradesh show that the system requires more scrutiny before it can be termed as a fool-proof way of welfare delivery.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.