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One fewer holdout on India’s biometrics-linked food distribution network

One fewer holdout on India’s biometrics-linked food distribution network
 

The populous Indian state of Delhi decided this week to participate in a ration card program linked to the nation’s Aadhaar biometric ID system.

Delhi was one of four states that had not implemented the One Nation, One Ration Card program through which migrant workers and their families can get their monthly guaranteed discounted rations of foods and other essentials anywhere in the nation.

The biometric program is part of the reform of India’s aging Public Distribution System, which has grown more easy to defraud and to steal from over the years.

Prior to the national ration program, migrants could only collect their raw foodstuffs at a state-designated store near their home. That, of course, would make it impossible for those working long distances from home to make use of the program.

Family members can buy their own discounted rations — typically wheat, rice and coarse grains — even as one or more of their number works in a distant Indian location.

One Nation, One Ration Card links a person’s customary ration card with an electronic point-of-sale terminal that reads fingerprint biometrics. The person’s Aadhaar number is part of the ID verification process. Terminals are located only in about 2,000 so-called fair price shops specially regulated by the national government.

Behind the scenes are two databases, the Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) and Annavitaran. IM-PDS holds interstate transactions and Annavitaran holds inter- and intra-district records.

Political leaders in Delhi held out, according to reports, because of significant problems with the terminals. In fact, they shut the network down in 2018 because authentication was faulty, resulting in participants being denied benefits.

India’s Supreme Court was unsympathetic to the holdouts, requiring full implementation of the ration plan by July 31. The nation’s executive branch in 2020 had offered loans to offset COVID-19 costs, but only if a state legislature had implemented the new ration system.

Aadhaar is perhaps the world’s most prominent national biometric ID system, and continues to become more deeply enmeshed in government services.

The growth has not come without controversy.

Snafus and alleged indifference to indigent Indians by state and national governments has reportedly resulted in citizens starving to death when legitimate beneficiaries were misidentified as fraudsters.

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