State government’s Aadhar-linked biometrics system hit by validation hurdles

The state government’s plans for an Aadhaar-linked biometrics based system at ration shops to curb pilferage and ghost beneficiaries has run into a speed bump due to validation hurdles.

Maharashtra has around 1.48 crore ration cards (or 7.0016 crore targeted beneficiaries) covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013. It covers up to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidised food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).

The state government is working on linking ration cards of all NFSA beneficiaries to their Aadhaar numbers. Point of sale (POS) machines will be installed in all 53,000 ration shops in Maharashtra for authentication using biometric features. The project is expected to be in place by March next year, with at least some of these terminals being commissioned.

Around 86.86% of these cards have been seeded with Aadhaar numbers so far. Sources said the validation of these Aadhaar numbers after their seeding with ration cards was proving to be slightly difficult due to inconsistencies in the data. “Many times, names on the ration cards do not match with details in the Aadhaar database. Sometimes, people use suffixes like Kumari and Shrimati while writing their names, which leads to inconsistencies being thrown up,” said a senior official.

“The problem is that while the PDS is a family database, the rest are individual databases due to which these issues come up,” said another official, adding that apart from one officer for each of the 45 “food districts,” they were also looking to appoint 427 people for speeding up validation.

He added that while they had validated around 60 lakh numbers in bulk, the use of the data seeding and data validation (DSDV) pool would speed up the process.

The departments plans to cover around 20% to 25% in bulk seeding, with an equal number being validated manually.

“However, we are planning to ensure that by the time the biometrics-based system is rolled out, at least one person per card is validated for all 1.48 crore ration cards. The others will be covered subsequently on POS machines in the fair-price shops,” the official said, admitting that “validating of beneficiaries is a huge task.”

However, food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat denied that problems had come up in the validation process. Another official said that the biometrics based system would weed out duplicate card holders, and bogus and ghost beneficiaries from the system as a pilot conducted in Sangli, Jalgaon and Shirur (Pune) had revealed.

The biometrics-based project is being rolled out in three groups, namely Mumbai, Konkan and Nashik; Aurangabad and Pune; and Nagpur and Amravati. Another official said the system must be installed 24 weeks after the master service agreement was signed and 99% off-take must be through biometric authentication. In exceptional cases, 1% can be done based on scanning the QR code on ration cards or through the one-time password (OTP) system.

The total number of ration cards in Maharashtra, which has an 11.23 crore population according to the 2011 census, is around 2.48 crore. The state government has used an exclusion criteria of Rs 54,000 annual income in urban areas and Rs 49,000 in rural areas for beneficiary families to be included for NFSA benefits.