The UIDAI issued a circular requesting states not to deny benefits to those without an Aadhaar and laid down an exception handling mechanism. But the task is easier said than done.
After a 11-year old girl passed away in Jharkhand allegedly due to denial of rations because their Aadhaar card was not linked, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) issued a circular to all the state governments & various departments/ministries about exception handling in the Public Distribution System (PDS) & other welfare schemes. The circular talks about non-denial of benefits in case the beneficiary does not have an Aadhaar and that the benefit/subsidy should be extended based on an alternate identification document as per the relevant notification issued by the department. A cursory look at the notifications issued by various departments reveals that it is easier said than done.
What does the UIDAI circular say?
The UIDAI circular refers to Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act 2016 which says that the central government or any state government can use Aadhaar for authentication for extension of subsidy or benefit. It also says that for those without an Aadhaar, they have to furnish proof of having applied for Aadhaar enrollment. The section also states that individuals will be offered alternate means of identification for delivery of benefit or subsidy till the time Aadhaar is not assigned The circular then talks about the exception handling process in case the Aadhaar authentication fails or if the individual has no Aadhaar. In the case of PDS, the circular says that any member of the family can authenticate and receive the benefit.
What is the issue then?
While the circular lists the exception handling mechanism, it is easier said than done if one looks at the notification issued in February 2017 by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution. The notification makes possession of Aadhaar or authentication mandatory for individuals who are eligible to receive subsidised food grains under the National Food Security Act. In cases where an individual does not have an Aadhaar, the notification states that the following documents be produced for providing food grains.
- Ration Card issued by the State Government Department and
- Copy of Aadhaar enrollment ID slip or copy or request made for Aadhaar enrollment; and
- Any of the eight (8) documents specified in the notification like Voter ID, PAN card etc.
The notification further says that the above documents will be checked by an officer designated by the State government. This is where it gets problematic. In states where there are lakhs of PDS transactions in a single day, it is very difficult for states to designate officers for this purpose. Most PDS dealers simply refuse to provide food grains to the beneficiary instead of going through the exception handling mechanism.
Huge fluctuation in the number of PDS transactions in Jharkhand
Data on number of PDS transactions in Jharkhand points to this trend. Ever since Aadhaar was made mandatory for availing the food grains under the PDS in Jharkhand late last year, the number of monthly transactions has been fluctuating without any set pattern as per the data available on the Jharkhand government’s PDS portal. From just 8.68 lakh transactions in August 2016, the number of transactions slowly increased to 47.55 lakh in December 2016. In April 2017, there were only 37.65 lakh transactions. In August 2017, the transactions reached an all-time high of 52.41 lakh. The number of transactions in October 2017 (till 28th October) was down to 34.66 lakh. This fluctuation was seen across products (Rice, Wheat, Kerosene, Salt & Sugar). As on date, there are about 56.34 lakh cardholders in Jharkhand. While the exact reasons for such fluctuation are not known, authentication failures & denial of food grains to individuals like Koyla Devi could very well be one of the causes.
Authentication failure rate still high
While the authentication failure rates at an All-India level are not available, the data from the Pension disbursement scheme in Andhra Pradesh shows that both biometric & IRIS authentication failure rate is close to 10% every month (the data for October 2017 is accessed on 29th October from the website). This would mean that the authentication of more than 3 lakh pensioners is failing every month.
The UIDAI circular is supposed to lay down the exception handling mechanism in cases mentioned above. But with the kind of documentation required as per various notifications, it’s easier said than done.
Featured Image: Public Distribution System Aadhaar Card