Raipur: 25-year-old Santoshi Sahu stood in the queue at a ration shop in Raipur for an hour to get her monthly ration. But finally when it was her turn, she was told she'll get ration for only four of the eight entitled family members. The ration shop in charge blamed the new software that recognises only four members of her family as beneficiaries.
Ms Sahu decided not take any ration and returned home empty handed. Santoshi said, "I refused to take ration because it won't be enough for my family. Earlier, I paid Re 1 per kg for subsidised rice but now that I will get only half of what I am entitled to, I will have to buy rice from outside for at least Rs 25 per kg."
This extra expense will burden the family whose monthly earning isn't more than Rs 4,000. Ms Sahu has complained to the joint commissioner over 10 times. Every time she submits photocopies her families' Aadhaar cards, she's asked to wait for the cards to be seeded with the ration card.
In October, the Chhattisgarh government introduced the 'Core PDS', an Aadhaar card authentication software that links the beneficiary's ration card with their Aadhaar card. Available at fair price shops across the state, the 'Core PDS' is expected to make the food grain subsidy programme more effective. However, reports of poor being denied ration, despite possessing Aadhaar card, contradicts its claims of efficiency.
Meena Chandel, a fair price shop in charge, said, "Before this new software was introduced, the number of beneficiaries enrolled at my ration shop was about 2,500-3,000, now it is down to 1,700."
In another part of Raipur, 53-year-old Mamata Gupta said the Aadhaar-ration card software doesn't recognise four out of five of her family. Since October, she has been getting only one fifth of what her family is entitled to.
"I submitted the Aadhaar cards of all the members in my family, but the ration shop in charge told me the software doesn't recognise all of them as beneficiaries. I am entitled to 35 kg rice but we have been getting only 7 kg for the last five months. This is a scam," said Ms Gupta.
But the Chhattisgarh food department insists that no one is being denied ration and that there might be some "ghost" ration cards.
Richa Sharma, Food Secretary of Chhattisgarh, says, "If I am unable to link an Aadhaar number with the ration card because of technical issues, that is no reason to deny any beneficiary his entitlement. I suspect some people are using ghost ration cards." After these cases were brought to the Chhattisgarh food department's notice by NDTV, the department assured that they will look into the matter.
As per the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, between 2004-05 and 2011-12, Chhattisgarh had successfully plugged leaks in the food subsidy system by 82%. However, activists say that the government's insistence on Aadhaar could be the undoing of that success.
Sulakshana Nandi, who is part of the Right to Food Campaign in Chhattisgarh, said, "It is ironic that a system that was functioning well is collapsing because of this new software."
According to the Chhattisgarh's food department, as of April 21, the Aadhaar cards of about 18 lakh people in the state weren't linked with their ration cards.
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor of Economics at IIT-Delhi, said the Aadhaar-PDS technology has brought vulnerability into a system that was working fine. "In this case, the software is actually breaking the system," she said.
Pitched as a tool to reduce corruption and promote inclusion, Aadhaar is in fact leading to exclusion, by keeping the most vulnerable people away from their entitlements.
Two women interviewed in this story have submitted affidavits in the Supreme Court as part of a PIL against Aadhaar.