India: Biometric Authentication to Food Welfare Depots

n a bid to crack down on food welfare fraud, India’s Minister of State for Food and Civil Supplies, Dinesh Gundu Rao, is bringing biometric scanning devices to distribution centers. The aim is to authenticate customers using their Aadhaar ID cards to ensure that they are indeed entitled to the food subsidies.

Aadhaar is, of course, the ID card program associated with the central government’s biometric registry of citizens.

The cards effectively link citizens’ biometric data to their government records, and thus can be used to regulate the administration of government services, as in this case.

At the moment, there is reportedly an ongoing issue of citizens using fraudulent BPL (‘below poverty line’) cards to get access to subsidized food; linking the food to Aadhaar cards instead should serve to eliminate this problem.

In fact a key rationale behind their introduction was to fight corruption and graft, and it appears that Minister Rao is seeking to put them to just such an end.

Still, despite the government’s best intentions, its use of biometric identification has come up against resistance in India.

Most recently, teachers at a prominent Indian university staged a mass sit-in in protest of the implementation of biometric time and attendance tracking systems; and in the country’s legal system, the Supreme Court has essentially blocked the government’s appeal against a ruling preventing the expansion of the Aadhaar program.