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The Aadhaar notification would come into effect from 8 February in all states and UTs except Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The Aadhaar notification would come into effect from 8 February in all states and UTs except Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Govt makes Aadhaar must for food subsidy

Govt issues notification under Aadhaar Act that requires more than 800 million beneficiaries to furnish their unique IDs to avail food subsidy

In a step aimed at better targeting of subsidies and checking leakages, the government has made it mandatory to have an Aadhaar number for availing benefits under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

The centre issued a notification on Wednesday under the Aaadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, which requires over 800 million beneficiaries to furnish their Aadhaar numbers to avail subsidized food.

So far, about 72% of beneficiary households have linked their ration cards with the Aadhaar number. Those without Aadhaar have to enrol by June, the food ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Also, those without an Aadhaar number will have to furnish proof to the effect that they have applied for one to receive subsidized food, the statement added.

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

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) after collecting biometric data of residents.

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

However, the Supreme Court in an interim order in October 2015 had allowed voluntary use of Aadhaar and ruled that no citizen can be denied a service or subsidy for want of it.

Following the passage of the Aadhaar Act, the petroleum and rural development ministries made the use of Aadhaar mandatory for availing subsidized cooking gas and payments under the employment guarantee scheme.

The use of Aadhaar obviates the need for producing multiple documents to prove one’s identity, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan tweeted, while announcing the decision.

The move will enable beneficiaries to receive dues directly “in a convenient and seamless manner", he added.

The centre’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for subsidized food goes against the Supreme Court’s interim order, and places the most vulnerable at risk of being left out of the food security net, said Dipa Sinha, an activist with the Right to Food Campaign and an assistant professor at Ambedkar University, Delhi.

“Even in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi, (Aadhaar) authentication failures are common due to connectivity issues," Sinha said, adding, “while the old and disabled, and people in remote areas will be the most affected, the government needs to remember that leakages are not just a last-mile problem. Foodgrain is siphoned off even before it reaches villages and owners of PDS shops also regularly cheat beneficiaries by giving them lesser than mandated quantity of grains."

In addition to the mandatory use of Aadhaar, the centre is also pushing states to move towards cashless payments by beneficiaries. “People without any debit or credit cards can use the Aadhaar-enabled payment system (AEPS), where Aadhaar numbers are linked to bank accounts to do cashless transactions," Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of UIDAI, told state officials at a conference last month.

At the same conference, Paswan told reporters his ministry is working to ensure 100% digital payments under PDS in the wake of the “historic step" of demonetization.

“A move towards cashless economy will reduce corruption," the minister said, adding, “seven states have agreed to transition to a cashless PDS by March and most have agreed to a June deadline."

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