Identity Project

In Jharkhand, compulsory biometric authentication for rations sends many away empty-handed

Public Distribution System dealers have strict instructions not to distribute rations without Aadhaar-linked authentication.

Kairi Tidu, aged 10 years or so, was wearing her school uniform at a recent public hearing on the Public Distribution System in Khunti, Jharkhand, because she had nothing better to wear for the occasion. She explained how her family had been deprived of Public Distribution System rice during the last few months. Her parents have migrated to Hazaribagh in search of work, leaving it to Kairi Tidu to collect the monthly rations. Unfortunately, the point of sale machine does not recognise Tidu’s fingerprints, so the dealer turns her away.

This is just one of many heart-rending testimonies we heard at the public hearing, held at the headquarters of Khunti block on February 9. Like Tidu, others explained how they had been deprived of Public Distribution System rations ever since Aadhaar-based biometric authentication became compulsory in the state in September. These included Karan Mahto (Card No 202xxxxxxx22), Yashoda Kumari (No 202xxxxxxx14), Bahal Mahto (No 202xxxxxxx75), Lebda Munda (No 202xxxxxxx82), just to mention a few.

Their testimonies are corroborated by the government of Jharkhand’s very helpful Public Distribution System website. There is no trace there of any transactions for these households in the last few months. According to the website, the number of households that have purchased rice from the Public Distribution System in Khunti block last month is just 73% of the total number of cardholders.

Kairi Tidu is unable to collect the rations meant for her household as her parents are migrant workers away from home, and the point of sale machine does not recognise her fingerprints.
Kairi Tidu is unable to collect the rations meant for her household as her parents are migrant workers away from home, and the point of sale machine does not recognise her fingerprints.

Aadhaar fixation

The local Public Distribution System dealers were present at the hearing, but they pleaded helplessness. They have strict instructions not to distribute rations without biometric authentication.

The block supply officer, who was sympathetic, admitted that the victims had been deprived of a legal entitlement, but saw no way around it since he has similar instructions. There is no fallback facility in the event where Aadhaar-based biometric authentication fails. And it is not difficult for the system to fail – lack of connectivity, biometric failure, server problems, wrong seeding, or linking, of Aadhaar data, cryptic error messages (such as “invalid”) are some of the reasons that were reported at the public hearing.

We also heard the findings of a small survey of the Public Distribution System conducted last January by the local NREGA sahayata kendra, a help centre for workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The survey covered 225 households in four hamlets of Tirla gram panchayat: Belahathi, Simbhukel, Saridkel and Todangkel. This gram panchayat, very close to the block headquarters, is likely to have better connectivity than most other gram panchayats in Khunti. Yet, among 225 sample households, as many as 40 reported having been deprived of Public Distribution System rations for one month or more since Aadhaar-based biometric authentication was made compulsory last year.

Further, 100 households reported having had problems with the biometric authentication system, leading to a considerable waste of time. For instance, when connectivity failures force them to make repeated visits to the Public Distribution System outlet.

The testimonies were followed by a lively discussion of the Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system. The participants – hundreds of women and men from Tirla and neighbouring gram panchayats – were quite agitated about it.

The block supply officer was at a loss to explain how an unreliable system with no fallback option can be imposed on people who have a legal entitlement to rations under the Public Distribution System. All he could do was to promise to raise the issue with the district authorities. But the district authorities are just following the instructions of the state government, and the latter, quite likely, is under strong pressure from the Union government to continue expanding the reach of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication despite its well-demonstrated inappropriateness.

Offline alternative

This fixation with Aadhaar-based biometric authentication is all the more misplaced as there are viable alternatives, where transactions are recorded offline (with or without biometrics) and then uploaded separately.

Madhya Pradesh has (or at least used to have) an offline system for its Public Distribution System, which seemed to work quite well when we examined it last year. West Bengal is also introducing an offline system based on barcoded smart cards, which sounds promising. Jharkhand, for its part, has an offline system in some areas, but the plan seems to be to impose online across the board as quickly as possible. In Khunti block, according to the block supply officer, offline has already been phased out entirely.

As the public hearing ended, we learnt that the Union government had just issued a notification making Aadhaar mandatory for the Public Distribution System across the country, yet another violation of Supreme Court orders on this matter.

The mandatory seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar is not the same as making Aadhaar-based biometric authentication compulsory, but the former could certainly turn out to be a prelude to the latter. If so, there is a real danger of recent progress with Public Distribution System reforms being stalled or even reversed in the near future.

Jean Drèze is visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.