Sees need for caution in the manner in which biometric data are used

Even as the debate on the pros and cons of mandatory Aadhaar applicability for many services goes on, a study conducted by an arm of the Reserve Bank of India sees need for caution.

A research paper published by the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT) concludes that while Aadhaar has brought in biometric authentication on a large scale, “the benefits to the consumers have been mixed, with not much benefit to those in the last mile.”

While analysing biometric authentication data from Andhra Pradesh as a case study, the research done by S Ananth, an adjunct faculty at IDRBT, the study says the data pertaining to a few months in the fist half of the present calender year indicates that statistics may be masking larger problems related to access of rations as far as delivery of government benefits to the last mile is concerned.

“Though the numbers indicate a halving of failures from a high of 7.14 per cent in January 2017 to 3.56 per cent in June 2017, this is accompanied by a commensurate 61 per cent fall in the number of authentications in June compared with January,”’ it observed.

Interestingly, the failure rate is highest in the districts which are known to have large numbers of migrant labourers. Similarly, the authentication failures were highest when large number people were present in villages.

“This raises important questions about the efficiency of Aadhaar and the government’s claims about their introduction of anywhere-rations through their programmes called ePoS,’’ it said.

BIOMETRICS QUALITY

There are quality concerns as well, as the quality of biometrics captured is not known as anecdotal evidence seem to indicate that the inability to capture biometrics in three attempts have led to the persons employed in the enrolment centre forcing the system to capture biometrics irrespective of quality, by manual ‘override’.

There is no way of verifying the quality of biometrics stored, especially by the person who has enrolled, it pointed out.

On the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, the study points out that in the last-mile areas, the role and contribution of Aadhaar has been far less beneficial than what it is claimed and is often “celebrated” to be.

SAVINGS

Did it result in “huge savings” to the government? This could be doubtful. While the government claims it has already saved ₹14,672 crore by using Aadhaar, through various Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) programmes, it has actually incurred a loss of ₹97 crore till date, the study says, citing a Canadian agency report.

There is a need for caution in the manner in which Aadhaar is used by the government, especially as more programmes and economic activities are linked to it. “Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa,” it said.

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