Aadhaar as a hurdle: On authentication failures and welfare delivery
NEWS Inefficiencies in the Aadhaar project should not come in the way of welfare delivery.
- The Supreme Court recently termed the cancellation of the three crore ration cards as “a serious issue”.
- The cancellation of these ration cards were done for not being linked with the Aadhaar database and was connected to reported starvation deaths in some States.
- Aadhaar is a unique 12- digit identification number that can be obtained voluntarily by residents or passport holders of India, based on their biometric and demographic data.
- The unique identification scheme has been in existence for more than a decade and recent data has estimated that nearly 90% of India’s projected population has been assigned the Aadhaar number.
SUPREME COURT ‘S VERDICT ON AADHAR
- In 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the Aadhaar programme as a reasonable restriction on individual privacy to fulfil welfare requirements and dignity
- Also in January 2021, a 4-1 majority Bench had rejected a review petition which put the questions about the scheme’s validity for public purposes to rest.
Despite the upholding of aadhar’s validity by the SC, the concerns about the failures in the use of the identity verification project have not been allayed. These include:
- Inefficiencies in biometric authentication and updating,
- Errors in linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts,
- The technological system based on iris identification, thumbprints but in the case of non-possession of Aadhaar or non-functioning of the internet in rural and remote areas, it leads to denial of Aadhar linked services.
- Those engaged in manual and hard labour, are more susceptible to fingerprint changes over time, hence are more vulnerable to authentication failure.
- In practice, beneficiaries have tended to use Aadhaar cards as identity markers but there have been instances of people losing cards and being denied benefits.
IMPLICATIONS OF AUTHENTICATION FAILURE
- As the benefits under the PDS, the NREGA and LPG subsidy, among other essentials, requires individuals to have the Aadhaar number, inefficiencies and failures in its authentication have led to inconvenience and suffering for the poor.
- There are reports that show failures in authentication having led to delays in the disbursal of benefits and, in many cases, in their denial due to cancellation of legitimate beneficiary names. For eg. reports from States such as Jharkhand from 2017, suggest that there have been starvation deaths because of the denial of benefits and subsidies.
The government had promised that exemption mechanisms that would allow for overriding such failures will help beneficiaries still avail subsidies and benefits despite system failures.
Given the scale of the problem, the central and State governments need to allow an alternative identification so that genuine beneficiaries are not denied due subsidies, thus making the process more inclusive.
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