New Delhi: After the use of Aadhaar numbers to receive subsidized foodgrain was made mandatory, close to 78% of households have linked their ration cards with Aadhaar, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said on Monday.

The minister further said that following a push to digitize the database of beneficiaries and authenticating their identities via Aadhaar, over 23 million fake ration cards have been scrapped, potentially saving the government Rs14,000 crore in food subsidy every year.

“This money will be used to provide foodgrain to more needy households," Paswan said during a briefing on the ministry’s achievements in the first three years of the Narendra Modi-led government at the centre.

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) after collecting biometric data of residents. In February, the government made it mandatory for poor families buying foodgrain from ration shops to have an Aadhaar number, with a deadline to enrol by June-end.

The use of Aadhaar for availing of subsidies got legislative backing in March last year after the Aadhaar Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha.

Reform of the public distribution system (PDS) is a major agenda for the government, Paswan said, adding, “Use of point of sale (PoS) machines in ration shops and use of Aadhaar has helped in reducing leakages under PDS."

According to the food ministry, till date 2,04,062, or 39% of all ration shops in the country have installed PoS devices and over 50,000 ration shops have been enabled for digital payments. Under this, beneficiaries without debit or credit cards can use the Aadhaar-enabled payment system (AEPS), where Aadhaar numbers are linked to bank accounts to carry out cashless transactions.

The targeted public distribution system is the largest subsidy programme in the country and costs over Rs1.45 trillion (estimated in Budget 2017-18). Under the National Food Security Act, each individual is entitled to 5kg foodgrain per month at a subsidized rate of Rs2-3 per kg.

“For the first time (this year) we went beyond rice and wheat and purchased pulses and onions from farmers," Paswan said, adding the government is planning to expand the basket of foodgrain supplied under PDS.

“We want to provide a more nutritional diet (for poor households and targeted groups) and have started discussions with the health, education and women and child welfare ministries," he said.

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