The government’s move to curtail LPG subsidy to six cylinders a year per household sets the stage for long-term plans to link the cylinder distribution to Aadhaar.
Aadhaar, touted as a magic wand to target subsidies and make efficient State welfare schemes — ranging from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Public Distribution System to LPG distribution — will be used to authenticate LPG consumers transacting with the three State oil companies.
Pilot projects using Aadhaar are on in different parts of the country. For LPG, a pilot project in Mysore was used to test the waters, that is, to check the feasibility of a system where cheap point of sale machines can be used to authenticate biometric data of citizens.
The long-term and more ambitious plan, announced by the government and mentioned in this year’s Union budget, includes using biometrics to authenticate consumer identity, having consumers pay for each cylinder at market price and remitting the subsidy amount into the customer’s bank account.
Though these, and many other such plans, ride on the back of Aadhaar, the promise of this unique identification platform remains undelivered, at least in the form its planners had envisaged.
In Mysore, which was chosen as it was among the first districts to finish over 90 per cent enrolments, the three oil companies had, as part of the pilot, successfully enrolled around 70,000 consumers in six months. But just a few months after the Union government announced that the pilot would be scaled up to 50 districts, the part of the pilot that involved using point of sale devices to authenticate identity as a prerequisite to making the transaction was withdrawn.
That the rate of success of the oil companies in implementing these plans was reportedly pegged at 67 per cent raises serious concerns about any plans to scale up this project, or link it to crucial welfare schemes.
Oil company sources had earlier told The Hindu that the proposal to authenticate identity at every transaction was withdrawn because there were problems with authenticating fingerprints. In the case of some, the sources said, the biometric data was not good enough to authenticate.
This part of the scheme continues to be on hold; instead, biometric verification is carried out at the distributor’s showroom as a one-time procedure when they provide their Aadhaar numbers.
Further, enrolments in Karnataka, which were stopped in April after the first phase of the project concluded, are yet to resume. The project is likely to resume in October, but the reasons for the delay remain unclear as yet.