Failure of a biometric machine leaves this UP village stranded for ration

In the village of Bagrehi in Manikpur, Chitrakoot, one biometric machine in the village’s only ration shop has stopped working. What might seem like a small, temporary glitch has ground the public distribution system of ration in this village to a halt. Residents, many of whom rely on the subsidised rates of grains and other commodities from ration shops, have been forced to come back multiple times, commuting for kilometres, to try their luck.

The public distribution system (PDS), established in the 1940s, makes provision for food and non-food essentials at fair-price shops, subsidised heavily by the government, to ensure that every individual in the country has access to these commodities. It has undergone various changes since its inception. The National Food Security Act (2013) entitled priority households to five kg of food grains per person per month at the nominal prices of Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively.

The Ministry of Food and Public Distribution estimated that the PDS caters to 75% of the rural population in the country. In a survey conducted in 2015, it was found that 99.52% of Below Poverty Line card holders in Uttar Pradesh used the PDS to purchase food grains. It is undeniable that many rely on ration provisions for their every meal.

The system has always had its fair share of problems, like the inclusion of non-eligible individuals, the exclusion of eligible individuals, and leakages from grain procurement to sale at ration shops. UP has, in particular, suffered because of the prominent use of ghost cards i.e. the use of fake ration cards to purchase grains at this subsidised rate to then sell in the open market. However, both the push to digitalise the ration system and the integration of it with the Aadhar card have created a new host of issues.

Sushila, a Bagrehi resident, explains the new digitised system of rations, “Initially, there used to be a list on paper against which names would be checked. Now they tell us to first give our thumbprint, and if it doesn’t work, they tell us to come back.” Close to tears, her helplessness and frustration echoes in her words, “I’ve gone back at least ten times. It just never works.”

Ramlal is one of the many residents who hasn't been able to avail his monthly ration because of problems with the biometric machine. “I have come here four times already,” he says, the frustration evident in his voice, “Kaam toh hamara ruk gaya hai (Our work has stopped). What do we do? We’re helpless.” He shakes his head and adds, “We have to run around for four, five days for 25 kgs of grains. It is too much trouble.” Ramlal’s problem of not being able to earn his daily wages because “attendance at the machine” has become a priority, is one that echoes across the village. As Bagrehi local Kamtaprasad explains, “How do we get by? We just do what we need to do, whether it means to take on extra work or do some labour after-hours.”

DR Yadav, the district PDS head, gives confident, albeit rehearsed, answers to the problem, “Anyone who has an Aadhar card can avail ration by using their biometrics.” Emphasising the unlikeliness of there being a problem, he adds, “If they’re facing any issues, any other family member can come to collect the ration.” His solution to the existing snag in the machine? “Come with any identification papers, and ration will be given to you.”

What the people of Bagrehi will do for sustenance until then, is a question that remains unanswered.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.

Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 13:18:33 IST