Govt considers making Aadhaar card essential for obtaining subsidised grain

The government on Thursday said it plans to make Aadhaar card essential, although not mandatory, for subsidised foodgrain under the National Food Security Act and asked states to link them with ration cards at the earliest.

The Centre also said that states have promised to install digital payment system at ration shops by June.

Under the food law, over 80 crore people get 5 kg wheat or rice per person per month at Rs 2-3 per kg costing exchequer Rs 1.4 lakh crore annually.

In order to promote digital transactions and less cash economy post demonetisation, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Thursday held a national conference of state food ministers and secretaries on ‘PDS Reforms and Cashless/Less-Cash Environment’.

“At present, nearly 29,000 fair price shops have the cashless facility out of 5.27 lakh ration shops. We are happy to share that many states will have 100% cashless system in rations shops by March,” Paswan told reporters here.

Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Maharashtra are the states that have committed to adopt digital payment system in their ration shops by March, he said.

“Most of the states will have digital payment system by June,” he said, adding that Bihar and Uttarakhand have promised to install cashless system by July while Andaman & Nicobar and J&K by end of this year.

Even West Bengal, which has been critical of the demonetisation move, has agreed to go cashless by June.

Paswan said the beneficiaries would continue to have the option of payment through cash.

The minister said that end-to-end computerisation of the PDS system and cashless transaction at ration shops would help check corruption and promote transparency in Public Distribution System.

With some states raising the issue of banking transaction cost for electronic payments, Paswan said he would hold discussion with the Finance Minister on waiver of such costs, which at present are free till March.

Food Secretary Preeti Sudan said the government is moving towards making Aadhaar “essential” but not “mandatory” and added that a notification in this regard would be issued.

Stating that there is a fine line between essential and mandatory, she said, “Let me work with the nuances”.

However, she asserted that beneficiaries would never be denied their entitlement under the food law.

So far, 72% of ration cards have been seeded with Aadhaar Cards. There are 23 crore ration cards, of which about 16.62 crore have been seeded.