IN the fragile and uncertain lives of poor people in Jharkhand, the public distribution system (PDS) provides a modicum of food and economic security. They keep their ration cards safely, visit the ration shop monthly, and get angry when the local PDS dealer cheats them.
A few years ago, a new system of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) for the PDS was first introduced in Ormanjhi block of Ranchi district, and then extended to other parts of Jharkhand. By May 2017, the entire state was covered, though some areas (about 15%–20%) were still in the “offline” mode.
Jean Drèze, Nazar Khalid, Reetika Khera and Anmol Somanchi conducted a survey in 32 randomly selected villages in Jharkhand, publishing their findings in a paper titled “Aadhaar and Food Security in Jharkhand:Pain without Gain?” in the Economic and Political Weekly in December 2017. In this feature, we map out scenarios using data from villages in which ABBA has been implemented.
Enter this maze to understand the many ways in which ABBA can create barriers and hurdles in the PDS, especially for the most vulnerable.
The findings of the paper raise serious questions about the appropriateness of this technology for rural Jharkhand.
Across the villages surveyed, the longer people’s experience with ABBA, the less supportive they were of it. The paper argues that at the very least, a reliable alternative to ABBA has to be put in place. Read the complete paper here.