Later on, it turned out that the Chhattisgarh model (so to speak) was replicable. Odisha was among the first States to emulate Chhattisgarh’s experience, with similar results. Many other States also initiated Chhattisgarh-style PDS reforms: broad coverage, clear entitlements, de-privatisation of PDS shops, separation of transport agencies from distribution agencies, computerisation, fixed distribution schedules, tight monitoring, active grievance redressal, and more.
In June this year, we went back to six of India’s poorest States (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal) for an update. We found that four out of six had a fairly good PDS, with most NFSA cardholders receiving the bulk of their entitlements every month and relatively low exclusion errors. The last two, Jharkhand and especially Bihar, still have a long way to go. Even there, however, the situation is much better than it was a few years ago. In Jharkhand, for instance, the transparency of the system has vastly improved, and the official NFSA website is among the best in the country. However, recent progress is in danger of being undone soon due to the Central government’s counter-productive push for Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS. This involves installing “Point of Sale” (PoS) machines at PDS shops, and verifying the identity of cardholders by matching their fingerprints against the Aadhaar database over the Internet.
In spite of ample warnings, the Central government continues to push for compulsory Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS. Incidentally, this is a violation of Supreme Court orders. The court did allow the use of Aadhaar in the PDS, but not making it compulsory for PDS users. Nor can the government invoke the Aadhaar Act to justify this move: the relevant sections of the Act are yet to be notified.