research institute for compassionate economics

Aadhaar, biometrics, and the PDS in Jharkhand

Written by Nazar Khalid on January 12th, 2018
  • Topics:

Check my new article on ideas for India website.
The Public Distribution System plays an important role in the lives of poor people in Jharkhand. They tend to keep their ration cards safely, go to the ration shop every month without fail, and get angry when the local PDS dealer cheats them. The reason is not difficult to understand: in their fragile and uncertain lives, the PDS provides a modicum of food and economic security.

Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) is now compulsory for most users of the public distribution
system in Jharkhand. In this paper, I argue that “the success of ABBA depends on the simultaneous functioning of undependable technologies such as the PoS machine, remote Aadhaar servers, fingerprint recognition devices, and internet connectivity.The analysis of digital records, along with independent survey data, provides us with some important insights on the impact of the new system on the PDS in Jharkhand, and it’s only in the combination of digital records and the survey data, such as Drèze et. al. (2017, paper ), that a clearer picture emerges. Even in Ranchi district, a relatively ‘favourable environment’ for these technologies to function, the failure rates are considerable. This raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this technology for the PDS, especially in areas like rural Jharkhand.”