“When we asked about savings made or bogus cards eliminated in the last two and a half years, the PIO informed us that the department doesn't have such information,” said an activist.
Pratap Vikram Singh | August 8, 2017 | New Delhi
Prime minister Narendra Modi said in parliament in February that the government has saved Rs 14,000 crore by eliminating 3.95 crore bogus ration cards using technology and Aadhaar in last two and half years. But, an RTI activist said the department of food and public distribution has informed that it does not have “any records to back the PM’s statement”.
The researchers and activists believed that the government is unnecessarily mandating Aadhaar to deliver benefits and payments under the social security schemes, as it only addresses ‘identification’ challenge in the distribution.
Recently media reports quoted government officials as stating that one crore fake job cards had been found during the process of cleaning up by seeding with Aadhaar etc. Economist Jean Dreze filed an RTI application which showed that so-called “fake” and “duplicate” job cards account for less than 13 percent of all deletions in 2016-7 which were 94 lakh.
“Other deletions were on account of a change in address, mistakes on job cards, people who wanted to surrender their job card. Bearing in mind that there are more than 12 crore job cards in the country, according to official data, duplicate and fake job cards account for barely 1 percent of all job cards according to government's own data, so why had the government made exaggerated claims to press and in court, asked the researchers,” the researchers said in a press note.
IIT Delhi did a study in collaboration with Ranchi University, covering about 900 randomly-selected households in 32 villages spread across eight districts in Jharkhand for the PDS. Economist Reetika Khera of IIT Delhi explained “Katauti” or quantity fraud, pilferage of grains by dealers continues same as before. “Households also report that the ‘cuts’ extracted (in kind) by PDS dealers have remained more or less the same before and after the introduction of ABBA [Aadhaar-based Biometric Authentication] as the Aadhaar system has no mechanism to check pilferage by dealers even after someone a card holder submits biometrics,” the researchers said.
Dipa Sinha of Right to Food Campaign said the government was “without any evidence” making Aadhaar mandatory for all children's schemes. Recently, the government also issued a notification making Aadhar mandatory for mid-day meal (MDM). She said the main problem in MDM is quality of meal, menu not being displayed, prioritising of private contractors over community run nutrition centres, and there is no concrete evidence of attendance inflation. If the government starts doing daily authentication it will be a huge disaster given the problems with biometric authentication especially of children whose biometrics are not fully formed, Sinha said.
The speakers demanded that the government must provide the evidence and basis of all such statements as eventually such figures inform policy decisions and public discourse.
Nikhil Dey pointed out that in Rajasthan when the government cancelled the pension of more than 10 lakh beneficiaries claiming that these had been weeded out through various reforms including Aadhaar, on ground verification showed the hollowness the claims. In Bhim block in Rajsamand, the government had shown that 2,900 beneficiaries had been weeded out as they had died, however, a door-to-door verification showed that more than 1,300 of these people classified as dead were in fact alive and were being denied their pensions. He said that this showed the callousness of the administration and exposed why it was urgent that the data be made public so that people can verify it.
The speakers also stated that if the claims of such large scale corruption being weeded out through Aadhaar were indeed true, then the government must also show how many FIRs have been filed till date and what action has been taken against government officials with whose collusion all these bogus cards were made.
Amrita Johri of the Satark Nagarik Sangathan said that the government was suppressing data about failure of the Aadhaar enabled biometric authentication. In Delhi, in 42 shops the Aadhaar linked Point of Sale (POS) devices were piloted. Visits to these shops showed that were several problems regarding connectivity and difficulty in authenticating biometrics especially of the elderly and those engaged in manual labour.
In one ration shop, the POS device had to be hung on a tree due to network problems! Yet the report on the pilot, obtained under the RTI Act, makes no mention of these problems, in fact it does not even state whether any site visits were undertaken while compiling the report. The Delhi government is now reportedly pushing through with universalising the POS devices in all ration shops in Delhi.
Several people from different districts of Delhi testified about the exclusions they are facing as a result of Aadhaar being made mandatory for receiving ration cards. The Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan has filed a case in the Delhi High Court challenging the government’s notification making Aadhaar mandatory and the court has appointed a local commissioner to look into cases of exclusions.