In a Delhi Slum, Aadhaar Deprives Several Families of Rations
Flanked on the blue-coloured walls, posters of Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha saying ‘Namaste’ catch your attention as one enters Mohini Devi’s room in south Delhi’s Kusumpur Pahari slum. A usual day for the 77-year-old begins with her getting ready for work, helping her daughter-in-law do her daily chores, and making sure that at least three cans of water are duly filled when a Delhi Jal Board water tanker arrives in the area.
Only then does Mohini leave for the kothi where she is employed as a domestic help. But the last two months have been hectic for the septuagenarian, who has been living with her family in Kusumpur Pahari for the last 30 years. “Bahut pareshani hai (we are facing several problems),” she says when asked about the Aadhaar-based distribution of rations.
Standing in a queue for hours is taking a toll on Mohini, who has visited the ration shop four times in February only to return empty-handed.
Aadhaar Has Thrown Life Out of Gear
In January when Mohini went to the nearest ration shop to get her share of 4 kg wheat and a kilogram of rice, she was told that her fingerprints are not matching with her Aadhaar. This was only one instance of ‘biometric authentication failure’ in Delhi, but has become common across the national capital.
Government data reveals that 47,760 cases of biometric authentication failure were reported in the capital till 24 February.
As per a notification by the state government, when Mohini and hundreds of thousands like her approach a ration shop these days, they must give proof of their identity by pressing their fingers on the e-PoS (electronic point of sale) machine that scans the impression and matches it with the database maintained by the Delhi government’s Department of Food Supplies.
In Mohini’s case, the machine showed an error. A message popped up on the handheld device that read, ‘commodity cannot be lifted.’ That was just the beginning of Mohini’s troubles, whose family comprises four members – her son, who is a security guard, his wife and two grandchildren.
Pilferage Continues to Hamper Ration Distribution
An online receipt, using Mohini’s ration card number, accessed by Delhi-based NGO Satark Nagarik Sangathan showed that she did take ration from the shop on 20 January. But how is that possible?
Activists are claiming that bungling of the PDS data is a sure sign of pilferage of grains by ration shop owners.
The government is saying that Aadhaar has to be made mandatory to fight corruption, and to make sure that services reach the most deserving. But if you look at what is happening on the ground, is far from what the government claims. Giving an Aadhaar number and linking it with the PDS is not going to help fight corruption.Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI activist and member, Satark Nagrik Sangathan
The Satark Nagrik Sangathan has submitted around 50 affidavits and a list of 1,000 families at the Delhi High Court, demanding rollback of Aadhaar-linked distribution of rations. So basically, someone did take ration that belonged to Mohini, and the data was allegedly manipulated by the ration shop owner who found an easy excuse in the name of Aadhaar.
‘Machine’ is Burning a Hole in Family’s Pocket
With a population of 50,000, Kusumpur Pahari has hundreds of such families, who, like Mohini, are claiming that the ‘machine’ has made life difficult for them.
For 60-year-old Shammo Devi, biometric authentication failure is burning a hole in the family’s pocket as she is forced to buy flour and rice from a grocery store at market price, which are almost 10 times higher than the rate at which wheat and rice are available through the PDS (Public Distribution System).
For Shammo Devi, who gets a monthly widow pension of Rs 2,500, buying ration from a general store increases the financial burden of the family. Her sons are daily wage labourers and she is hesitant in seeking help from daughters who are married and have their own expenses to bear.
Policy on Hold But no Road Map
Despite the Delhi government’s announcement on 20 February that Aadhaar-based distribution of rations is on hold, the ration shop owners have not received any formal communication from the state government. Activists, in fact, claim that in addition to e-PoS machines, few iris scanners have already made their way to certain fair price shops.
Sources close to the Delhi government told The Quint:
There was a phase out plan; don’t think a timeline can be given. The decision was implemented as part of a pilot project and it was assumed that margin of error would be less, which later turned out to be high. Cabinet has decided to put this on hold; notification, formalities, etc, might take time.
Hassle caused due to Aadhaar-based authentication amplifies the problem associated with the Public Distribution System in Delhi where a functional State Food Commission is still work in progress. In the absence of a robust grievance redressal mechanism, policy initiatives like that of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication continue to do more harm than good.
Camera: Athar Rather
Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Production Assistants: Zubair Lone & Gowhar Hassan
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