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Aadhaar Continues to Trip Up Direct Benefit Transfer Schemes, Duping Thousands: Report

Calling the system a "direct benefit to scammers," the report highlights how real beneficiaries are often cheated by a system that has been made opaque.

New Delhi: Even after rounds of clarifications from the Reserve Bank of India and the Unique Identification Authority of India, and five years after a Supreme Court order rendering the interlinking of Aadhaar and bank accounts voluntary, Aadhaar cards continue to pose a big roadblock when it comes to Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes.

Successive reports, especially in the severe financial crunch presented by the lockdown, have pointed out that not only has Aadhaar continued to trip people availing themselves of the Public Distribution System and MGNREGS, it is also the prime problem for disbursement of money for scholarships, the PM Kisan scheme, LPG subsidies and so on.

A campaign called Rethink Aadhaar has published a report highlighting the ease with which Aadhaar has enabled scams to perpetuate in the form of DBTs.

Calling the system a “direct benefit to scammers,” the report highlights how real beneficiaries are often duped by this system.

“With the Aadhaar-based DBT system, beneficiaries are unaware of how and when their personal details, including Aadhaar numbers, are used to divert payments. Often real beneficiaries complain about not receiving the amount transferred via DBT in their bank accounts, as government departments create multiple bank accounts to transfer subsidies to, without the knowledge of the person in whose name the account has been created.”

The problem is perpetuated, according to the report, by the marked increase in steps. The pre-Aadhaar system of DBT would be conducted through NEFT transactions which placed the RBI as the sole agency between banks and beneficiaries. The new system functions through an Aadhaar Payments Bridge, which is operated by the private organisation, the National Payments Corporation of India.

Also read: Aadhaar Fraud is Not Only Real, But is Worth More Closely Examining

However, this has not eased payments as the very technological innovation that was supposed to bring transparency in the system has made it more opaque and out of reach of common people. In addition, there have been Aadhaar linkage-based technical errors that have proven costly for several by now, the report analyses.

Under the Bridge system, the NPCI links the Aadhaar number to the bank account number of a beneficiary. The DBT will thus take place with the linked bank account. But the report cites a flaw here:

“However, this linkage is done arbitrarily to the “last linked” bank account, and with no way of checking whose account it is. Although beneficiaries’ consent is supposed to be a prerequisite to this linking or mapping”, it is totally absent in practice, leaving beneficiaries in the dark about which accounts have been created in their names or linked to their Aadhaar numbers.”

The list of bank accounts and the Aadhaar number associated with it is available with NPCI alone. Thus there is no way a particular beneficiary may know of which of her accounts – if even it is her account – that is being used.

Additionally, with central authorities taking over the clearing of payments, beneficiaries who feel something is amiss have little recourse to appeal to local governments at the district, block and gram panchayat levels for help when it comes to DBTs.

The examples

The report cites how in Jharkhand, the Aadhaar-based DBT system found itself amenable to rampant corruption when it came to disbursement of pre-Matric scholarship money to poor minority students, as revealed by an investigation by The Indian Express.

Taking note of Express’s report the Ministry of Minority Affairs had listed five preventive measures to be implemented “immediately for securing the process” for the academic year 2020-21.

The scam was replicated in Assam, Punjab and Bihar, where students received or were able to access only a fraction of the amounts they were due thanks to a nexus of brokers, bank correspondents, school staff and state government employees.

The report also cites situations where LPG subsidies have ‘vanished‘ during the lockdown and where publicly available Aadhaar numbers were used to siphon away money in a wide ranging PM Kisan scam.

Also read: Aadhaar Mess: How Airtel Pulled Off Its Rs 190 Crore Magic Trick

During the lockdown, especially, Aadhaar put to question the efficacy of the PDS. In Odisha, according to The Hindu, inordinate delay in adding names of newly married women to ration cards at their marital homes left many vulnerable women and their children without food security.

In an analytical piece on Indian Express, Vipul Kumar and Sameet Panda write how a new PDS portability system called Integrated Management of PDS and the Annavitarn Portal identify beneficiaries through Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) on the electronic point-of-sale machine installed at the ration shop. This, as is visible, depends primarily on the seeding of Aadhaar with ration cards. The analysis highlights how there has been little attempt to extend this to travelling or migrating beneficiaries in spite of the Centre’s claims of introducing one ration card for the whole nation.