New Delhi: The idea of using the unique identity (UID) programme, or Aadhaar, to reform the public distribution system (PDS) through which the government supplies cheap grain, pulses and other essentials to people who most need them appears to be gathering steam, with Congress president and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi signalling her backing for it.

A senior Congress party official, who did not want to be identified, said that Gandhi had directed the government to initiate discussions with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in this context. Officials from the agriculture ministry, including minister of state K.V. Thomas, met UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani in his office on Wednesday.

The government’s efforts to involve Aadhaar in PDS come after the Supreme Court suggested the same thing late last month.

Aadhaar aims to provide every resident with a unique identification number that can serve as proof of identity for everything from opening a bank account to receiving government subsidy to getting grains and other products from ration shops, the last link in PDS.

An official in the agriculture ministry confirmed that a meeting on Nilekani’s proposal to use Aadhaar in PDS did indeed take place on Wednesday. A UIDAI official declined comment. Meanwhile, the government has created a committee to prepare a road map for the computerization of PDS and link it both to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and UIDAI.

Integration with UID will be a major focus area of the committee, said an official in the department of information technology.

FCI’s warehouses are the first link of PDS.

On 27 July, the apex court bench comprising justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, while dealing with a report submitted by the justice D.P. Wadhwa committee on PDS, said: “The Union of India may consider computerization in consultation with the specialized agencies like the Unique Identification Authority of India or any other agencies."

The Wadhwa panel, set up on 12 July 2006 to examine the functioning of PDS and suggest remedial measures, had found that there was “huge corruption and pilferage in PDS all over the country".

The government was given two weeks to respond to the recommendations of the apex court, which also includes exclusion of people living above the poverty line from the purview of PDS and the shift to a per capita regime of providing subsidized foodgrain as opposed to the existing practice of allocations per family.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the matter on Thursday.

Mint reported the court’s order on 29 July.

The report also pointed out that the court’s order had come ahead of a 30 August meeting of the National Advisory Council (NAC) to review the role of UID in PDS. NAC, the political interface between the government and the Congress party, is in a debate with the administration on the proposed food security Act. NAC wants the Act to be universal, while the government prefers a more calibrated approach that targets the poorest first.

In a discussion paper on linking PDS with Aadhaar, UIDAI has said: “The number would be a foundation over which the government can build more effective PDS processes."

The paper added: “Aadhaar presents governments with a highly flexible solution—states can choose to implement Aadhaar within the PDS in stages, beginning with Aadhaar-based identification, and progressing towards Aadhaar-based authentication and an Aadhaar-enabled management information system."

The paper further argues that linking PDS with Aadhaar will ensure the delivery of the entitlement to the right beneficiary and tracking of foodgrain movement.

UIDAI had previously approached the department of food and public distribution for a tie-up with the PDS scheme, specifically in Haryana and the Union territory of Chandigarh, though this is yet to materialize. Haryana and Chandigarh are already working towards a biometric-based PDS system.

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