Current General Studies Magazine (September 2016)
General Studies - III "Social Issues Based Article" (Linking
of Aadhaar is Misguided)
The Union food ministry issued an unprecedented diktat. It has insisted that
each family member must possess an Aadhaar number within four months, to be
eligible for subsidised foodgrains under the National Food Security Act. This
ties in with the larger plan for all ration shops by 2019 to verify Aadhaar
biometrics at every transaction. So, not only must 210 million families possess
unique numbers for each member, they must also queue up every month to prove
their thumbprints. But does this make any logical sense?
First, the ration dealer can still give less grain than the printed receipt.
Only in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are electronic weighing scales connected
to stem “quantity deception”. But they too work only when there is electricity.
Besides, the greatest pilferage occurs from godowns, not ration shops.
Second, to weed out ghost cards and “identity fraud,” a one-time exercise to
match ration cards with the population
census would have been more than sufficient. Already, every single card
nationwide has been digitised and two-thirds Aadhaar-seeded to purge 20 million
Finally, if the aim was to ensure that unsold foodgrains are not siphoned off
with “accounting dodges”, there are far simpler alternatives. Bihar’s barcoded
coupons have reduced leakages from 91 to 24 per cent within six short years.
Previously, Tamil Nadu had relied on offline handheld billing devices (similar
to those with bus conductors). Andhra’s ration shops now use iris scanners, with
a lower error rate than biometrics. Instead, the insistence on Aadhaar
biometrics has already wreaked havoc. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
estimates that in the last few months, 38 per cent of households in Rajasthan
have not been able to match fingerprints. In Madhya Pradesh, 20 per cent of
devices have malfunctioned and have been returned to vendors. Similarly, in
Jharkhand’s capital, at the outset almost half the cardholders were not able to
prove their identity. Five hundred leprosy survivors without fingers in Ranchi
were insensitively denied foodgrains for three months — for want of
The ouster of these eligible, impoverished families is often then heroically
projected as savings. But even the best of technologies are often no match for
large-scale insider fraud. Recently, across Karnataka, 45,000 bogus
ration cards linked to fictitious 12-digit Aadhaar numbers were discovered.
Biometrics are not foolproof — the calloused fingers of labourers and the
elderly frequently throw up errors. Aadhaar also requires continuous access to
mobile signals or the internet, which is a tall order in rural areas that barely
A decade ago, the British Parliament passed the Identity Cards Act. The intent
was to create a National Identity Register database of all citizens with
biometrics, iris, face scans and longitudinal records of residence. But after
public outcry and escalating costs, in 2010, a new coalition government repealed
the law and the nascent database was permanently destroyed. Australia and New
Zealand too have abandoned the idea of national biometric archives.
India’s Aadhaar project, however, has ballooned since its birth. Surprisingly,
the apex court recently ruled that every mobile number should be linked to
Aadhaar within a year. From April, Aadhaar will also be a must to demand work
under the MGNREGA. The Karnataka government plans to track the progress of every
school child with fingerprints. Soon newborns in Maharashtra will also be
enrolled for the magic numbers in hospitals. Never mind that their fingerprints
and irises are yet to be fully formed.
In this “Big Brother” Aadhaar mania, the HRD ministry has finally sounded the
alarm bell. It has questioned the Centre’s push to link these unique numbers to
student scholarships, which is in clear violation of earlier Supreme Court
orders. Despite the furtive enactment of the Aadhaar Act through the backdoor as
a money bill, the apex court has repeatedly pronounced that the unique number
must be “purely voluntary” and cannot be made mandatory for any government
entitlement, till the matter is sub judice.
India ranks 97 of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Two of every three
Indians are guaranteed foodgrains under the National Food Security Act. One of
every five rural households depends on MGNREGA work. Let an increasingly
Orwellian “Digital India,” in the guise of Aadhaar, not eat into these