Food security activists and economists have expressed concern at the exclusion of thousands of PDS beneficiaries in Rajasthan owing to glitches in the Aadhaar enabled electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) device.
The Aadhaar enabled ePoS is dealing a double blow to the state’s public distribution system, leaving out beneficiaries owing to glitches in the ePoS machine, and not being able to check “quantity fraud”, activists maintain.
The Rajasthan government, however, has said the state’s record has been exemplary in making the transition from the older ration card-based system to the one based on biometric identification using Aadhaar.
Interestingly, Subodh Agarwal, Principal Secretary (Food and Civil Supplies) cited Rajasthan’s Aadhaar ePoS experiment as a “best practice” at a meeting in New Delhi on Friday. “Rajasthan’s experience has been exemplary due to the speed at which we have done Aadhaar seeding, National Food Security Act sanitisation as well as ePoS installations,” he told The Indian Express.
In a letter to Union Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, activists and economists, including Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera, Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bharadwaj, have sought to draw the government’s attention to the “danger of inappropriate technologies” for PDS in states like Rajasthan and Jharkhand.
According to data obtained from Rajasthan government’s official portal, only 64 per cent beneficiaries were getting their ration through the Aadhaar enabled ePoS system in August.
The remaining 36 per cent are vulnerable to exclusion owing to glitches in the machines, allege activists.
While the number of beneficiaries has seen an increase — from 44.6 per cent in May to 64 per cent in August — activists say the numbers still present a bleak picture.
“A 62 per cent ‘success’ rate (July) is disastrous. In rural areas at least, hardly anyone foregoes their rations. We don’t know what is happening to the remaining 38 per cent. There is no clarity about a ‘manual override’ facility, that is if the machine fails you, the dealer can revert to old-style register-based sales. In any case, dealers have no incentive to tell people about. Are the 38 per cent aware of the manual override facility, or are they being cheated?” said economist Reetika Khera.
“The new technology has possibly dealt a double blow – quantity theft continues as before; plus for 38 per cent, they may get it if they know about the possibility of register based sales, or not at all if they are unaware of this option,” she said.
However, the state government says the system cannot result in exclusion. “We are not saying that ePoS machines cover 100 per cent beneficiaries. But those who can’t get their ration from ePoS due to some technical glitches, can always get it from the manual system,” Subodh Agarwal, Principal Secretary (Food and Civil Supplies), told The Indian Express. “And the system is slowly picking up. If we have reached over 62 per cent from 44 per cent in May, then that is an achievement,” he said.
Aas Mohammad, a Fair Price Shop operator in Tijara, Alwar, said all sales at his shop were being made using ePoS machines. “If the machine fails to identify them, they have to come again. We have stopped selling through registers,” he said.