In Andhra, Aadhaar seeding removed 17% fake users
Enough has been written about the problems in cutting ration shop leakages—estimated at 46.7% at the national level by ICRIER’s Ashok Gulati and Shweta Saini—since not everyone has an Aadhaar number and, more important, the list of PDS beneficiaries has not been seeded with the unique identity numbers. Add to this the fact that it is the states that hold the key to seeding the PDS list with Aadhaar, and it seems impossible to ever crack the PDS leakage maze. Yet, as a page-1 story in FE on Monday pointed out, Andhra Pradesh has done an excellent job on this. In the Krishna district which has 2,155 fair price shops, the district has Point of Sale (PoS) devices in each outlet to check if those taking rations are indeed the beneficiaries by matching their biometrics with those in the Aadhaar database—that there were a mere 511 PDS outlets that had PoS devices to authenticate beneficiaries in May is an indication of the speed at which the task is being undertaken. For the Krishna district, the state estimates it is saving R8.2 crore a month by weeding out the fake beneficiaries, or just under R100 crore a year.
Needless to say, progress has not been uniform across the country, but in all of Andhra Pradesh, 95% of PDS beneficiaries had been verified via their Aadhaar numbers as of last month—it is just a matter of months before PoS devices, as in Krishna district, will be available in all ration shops across the state. As a result of the elimination of fake beneficiaries through the use of Aadhaar, while the state reported 4.53 crore PDS beneficiaries at one point, this is now down to 3.87 crore, or a little over 17%. In Telangana, 98.4% of all PDS beneficiaries had Aadhaar numbers embedded into their accounts in July—as a result of this, the number of beneficiaries in the state came down from 3.08 crore earlier to 2.82 crore. Other states that have done a very good job include tiny Puducherry where there is a 75% Aadhaar seeding ratio, Himachal Pradesh with 78%, Delhi and Chandigarh with 100%, and Sikkim 76%; Punjab has done reasonably with 66% Aadhaar seeding, but Haryana is a laggard with under 27%—Uttar Pradesh has a mere 0.19%, Bihar is 22.17%.
This is what prime minister Narendra Modi was alluding to when, in his Independence Day speech, he talked of a Rs 15,000 crore saving in LPG subsidies by weeding out fake customers through the use of Aadhaar—and this is without cutting the LPG subsidy per user. While Rs 15,000 crore is a large number, the potential PDS savings are even higher. The exact saving will depend upon the number of poor people in each of India’s 640 districts and the amount of food they are entitled to consume at subsidized prices, but a simple extrapolation of the Krishna number—India’s population divided by Krishna’s, and that ratio multiplied by Krishna’s savings—yields a number slightly above R27,000 crore. Given that the Supreme Court’s interim judgment makes it difficult to complete the seeding, the government has to impress upon it the problems with the interim judgment—SC has allowed use of Aadhaar for PDS operations but, at the same time, dealt a blow to it by ordering that the government widely publicise the fact that Aadhaar is not mandatory. If Aadhaar is not mandatory, why would states want to seed their list of PDS beneficiaries with it? Which is why, last week, the Election Commission said it was not going to weed out fake voter cards by seeding its list with Aadhaar numbers.