Every conversation about the Aadhaar card in front of Lokesh Aggarwal (40), who runs a Fair Price Shop (FPS) in Meherchand market, leads to him narrating the story of a “family of 16”.
“At least two members of the family came to my ration shop daily for about 10 days last month, but the machine wouldn’t recognise their fingerprints. Till I tried biometric scanning on all 16 members, I couldn’t give them the ration manually. It was absurd,” said Aggarwal, who has been selling ration for two decades now. Starting January 1, Aadhaar card-based electronic point of sale (e-PoS) devices were set up in 2,254 FPS in the city. It started in December 2017 as a pilot project in 90 shops, including Aggarwal’s. Since the machine arrived, Aggarwal said “business has been down by 25% as old customers go to other FPS if their biometrics don’t match in one go”.
The Indian Express visited FPS across Delhi over a span of five weeks and found that in several cases, the machines were faulty, network connectivity was low, and fingerprint recognition of the elderly was problematic.
At shops The Indian Express visited in January and February, many left without their allocated kilos of wheat and rice.
“The linkage of Aadhaar with ration cards has led to a larger scale of exclusion. Many homeless and transgender people don’t have Aadhaar cards and can’t get ration. The last time ration cards were made in Delhi was in 2013. No ration card quotas have been opened since then. Despite the linkage, the corruption continues. Aadhaar can’t be a tool to fight corruption; maybe it can be one for identification. What we need is a robust grievance redressal system, where a time-frame for correcting issues should be provided,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
In January, Delhi’s Food Supplies Minister Imran Hussain had told The Indian Express that “iris recognition will be implemented from January 15, and authentication using one-time password (OTP) will be done at FPS between January 15-20”.
Yamuna Das (52), who runs an FPS in Madanpur Khadar, has no idea when the iris and OTP facilities will be made available.
“It would help to have alternatives. This e-PoS machine doesn’t catch any signal here; I have been complaining since day one. I bought an Airtel 4G hotspot for Rs 1,500. The battery is terrible and the charger doesn’t work. It’s as if the government didn’t assess the challenges and just handed over an incomplete plan to us,” Das said.
He recounted an instance of an old man, who came to his shop a few days ago. “He was the sole card holder in his family… But the machine didn’t recognise his biometrics. We tried all 10 fingers. I had to give him ration manually, I had no option.”
Moolchand Gupta (55), who sells wheat and rice at his convenience store in Safdarjung Enclave’s Krishna Nagar, said he has to shut shop every time the e-PoS machine fails. “It’s a loss of not just ration sale, but everything else too. The machine is creating trouble again, I dread going to get it fixed at ITO,” said Gupta, who’s been in this business since 1981. For more than a month now, he has been using his neighbour’s WiFi to make the machine work.
The Delhi government, meanwhile, is keen on “doorstep delivery of ration”. A senior official at the Food and Supplies department said, “If this is worked out and passed, it will become much easier to monitor distribution. Ration cards have been linked to Aadhaar cards in the city. If ration does not reach a person, they can complain immediately. Text messages will be sent a day before the ration is to reach them for better information and monitoring,” he said.
However, Saurabh Gupta, secretary of the Sarkari Ration Dealer Sangh (Delhi), said: “Customers can sample the quality of wheat and rice at an FPS; they can’t do that at home. Also, the government spent a lot of money in setting up these machines, it is an utter loss if they resort to home delivery.”