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02 UID PDS Rations and other government schemes

Since the Public Distribution System (PDS) has the largest database in the country, UIDAI has roped them into providing their database for Aadhaar. Though there are claims of duplication—one of the stated benefits of the Aadhaar is deduplication—this argument is flawed on two counts. The first is that the number of ‘below poverty line’ BPL Ration Cards are well within the recent estimates of poverty whether by the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) (55%) figures, the World Bank(42%), N C Saxena(50%), Arjun Sengupta (41%) and Tendulkar(37%)

It is only when compared with the absurd Planning Commission (27.5%) estimates that the BPL numbers are seen to be too high. For the record, about one in two Indian children are malnourished—a sort of validation for the poverty figures. If not, one will have to conclude that about 25% of the families that can afford to feed their families deliberately don’t feed them. Secondly, the investment in Aadhaar is many times the requirement needed for universal PDS, with the rich self opting out.

Rations will be given based on the Supreme Court orders, not because someone has an UID or not. The PDS system has been under assault for several decades now, and it is the government—this government with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture—who are opposing giving even the rotting food-grain to the people despite the orders of the Supreme Court of India.

The way to ensure food security is to protect farmlands and ensure that all can access the PDS system. Universal access will ensure that the rich opt out. Administration of the PDS by women’s groups, as is already being done in certain parts of the country will ensure that there is last mile verification and zero corruption by government employees.

The story could be repeated with slight variation for other government schemes. The reality is that most of the leakages are because of government employees and politically connected touts. The 'leakages'--the bribes and the corruption--take place before and after, seldom at the point of sale. The Aadhaar scheme does not cover the more prevalent forms of corruption.

Where there is no electricity—which is most of the country—this scheme will only sharpen the digital divide. Villages where there is no electricity will be removed from Aadhaar, and consequently from government schemes since the government in its wisdom has made it mandatory (or is making noises to that effect).