Aadhaar’s National Goals Hinge on Tech Pilot Success Mysore project linking UID with LPG delivery provides early insights into challenges facing world’s largest database project
A fight is about to break out across the street from Krishna rajendra nagar Police Station in Mysore as two middle-aged men try to force their way into a gas agency manned by a few uniformed delivery men. One of them yelled: “This is stupid! Let me talk to the owner.” The air is tense and the heat is not helping things either.
The gulf between drawing-board plans and ground realities of a nation fighting for technological advances is posing new challenges, evident from the daily chaos at Mysore’s Venus Gas Agency. Here, oil marketing companies are trying to tweak the existing distribution system using a first-of-its kind technology pilot based on the identity database project, Aadhaar. The success of the pilot is critical for financial inclusion, targeted public distribution and direct cash subsidy transfer by linking it with Aadhaar, issues that have been championed by the Centre.
Through this pilot, state-owned oil marketing firms like IndianOil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum — which sell cooking gas to consumers through distributors — want to weed out multiple gas connections with a single user with the help of deliveries linked to Aadhaar.
The second and more important part involves testing how direct cash transfers can be implemented, again using Aadhaar. The project will be in full swing in Mysore, Hyderabad and Pune in less than a week despite a Parliamentary panel suggesting that the UIDAI Act be revised. But teething troubles, angry customers among them, are many.
For instance, CR Nagendra, 40, and his friend Sugendra, 52, have been told by the agency they can’t take their LPG refill booking unless they provide relevant documents. “But we have given all documents twice. Why are you making us do this again?” Nagendra asked Subba Singh, a delivery boy with the gas agency, which has 26,000 customers.
As Singh and his colleagues try to pacify the crowd, inside the building, owner N Madhava, an 87-yearold army veteran is vexed too. “I’ve never had such problems running the agency,” said Madhava who believes that the project, if successful, will be a great help to the distributors.
To start with, over 11,000 consumers have to fill up a form which asks for your Aadhaar number, bank account details and personal details. Aadhaar numbers have to be verified before building a database and eliminating fake connections. At the time of delivery, staff trained to use a mobile point-of-sale device needs the consumer to authenticate the purchase using their thumb impression. After the sale is authenticated, the transaction is closed and a record is maintained by the oil marketing company. “This will make sure that the connection reaches the right person,” said KK Sharma, assistant director-general, UIDAI, the agency responsible for Aadhaar rollout.
To test cash subsidy transfer, the consumer will be asked to pay the unsubsidised cost of the cylinder upfront. After the consumer authenticates the purchase, based on the data sent to oil marketing firms, the subsidy will be deposited in the consumer’s Aadhaar-linked bank account. “The project will help us streamline the process,” says Madhava whose agency has been putting “pressure” on delivery boys to plug leakage and theft.
But problems persist. “We have done everything. Three times they have checked the documents. Again and again, they make us do this. Every three months there is a problem,” says an irritated Nagendra. Part of his frustration has to do with the fact that the Karnataka government recently made him go through a similar document submission exercise – again aimed at weeding out fake LPG connections, which was ultimately junked.
Apart from repeated submission of documents, consumers have been asked to attach a cancelled cheque leaf with the filled form. The cheques are being used to extract bank details of the consumer to facilitate direct cash transfers to their accounts. Many, coming from poor families, do not have a bank account. Some, who have an account, say that they do not have the minimum balance of Rs 1,000 to avail of the cheque book facility. The problem is being worked around by getting the required code numbers from the bank and putting it in the form. The form is sent to the Nasdaq-listed technology firm iGate Patni which is going to digitise the record and build the consumer database based on which direct cash transfers will be tried out.
Another thorny issue is that point-of-sales devices operate on mobile technology and they may not work in areas where there is no connectivity. “There are many such places that come under our service area,” said Neeta Maroli, administrator, Venus Gas Agency. A recent survey, however, found that poor availability of biometric devices and network connectivity will only have limited impact on the implementation of Aadhaar and its ability to solve the problems of targeted public distribution system. The survey which polled 105 respondents comprising of decision makers, academicians and implementers, was conducted by IT services firm Wipro which bagged a contract from the UIDAI to set up data centres in Bangalore and the national capital region. “Infrastructure such as biometric devices and network connectivity may not be immediately available,” said the survey which set out to measure the possible impact of Aadhaar on the targeted public distribution system. It, however, concluded that once implemented, Aadhaar can impact leakage of foodgrains, complaint tracking and lack of accountability.
Another problem lies with the fact that consumers are not comfortable with the idea of paying the whole amount for LPG upfront and waiting for the government to credit subsidy to their bank account later. “We don’t want to pay the whole amount for LPG upfront and wait for the government give us money later,” said Nagendra. But RSS Rao, the Chief Marketing Officer of IndianOil contests the process will become efficient once the creases have been ironed out. “Right now, we are not asking them to pay upfront. For testing purposes, we are crediting Rs 10 to their accounts after the sale,” said Rao. He co-ordinates the pilot project on behalf of the oil companies that are making an early move to test Aadhaar based applications.
At UIDAI’s regional office in Bangalore, KK Sharma agrees there are teething problems. “That is expected out of a pilot but it gives us a lot of learning,” said Sharma. “There are technological as well as administrative challenges but we will try to overcome them,” added Sharma who was earlier in the Department of Posts, world’s most distributed and complex post office system. The soft-spoken career bureaucrat is hopeful that the pilot will be a success and can be scaled up across the country later.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka government is busy putting together a Resident Data Hub, which will be used to deliver various schemes like social security pensions and subsidised ration. “Once we integrate the UID with different databases, the same would be shared with all the concerned departments,” said MN Vidyashankar, e-governance secretary.
While Vidyashankar feels the data hub and Aadhaar will be game changers, there are people who disagree. “The belief that technology per se can thwart corruption is naive techno-determinism,” said Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society. His organisation has sent many letters to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on UID.
“The UID project and biometrics should have been used to target corruption at the top and within the government. For low-ticket retail corruption simple technologies like publishing list of beneficiaries on notice boards and on the internet would have been sufficient instead of expensive technology,” argues Abraham.
Using Aadhaar to Target Subsidies & Reduce Inefficiencies
Every customer (entitled to receive subsidised LPG) will have an Aadhaar. Aadhaar will be verified before seeding the database and based on Aadhaar, the customer data will be de-duplicated to eliminate multiple/ghost and fake connections. While delivering LPG, Aadhaar number of the customers or family members will be verified to disable unauthorised use.
DIRECT CASH TRANSFER
LPG will be sold at market price and the differential as subsidy will be transferred to the Aadhaar Linked Bank Account. Single price and direct subsidies will remove incentive for unauthorised deliveries