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COVID-19: Odisha suspends biometric Aadhaar authentication at PDS fair price shops until ‘further orders’

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The Odisha government on Friday decided to exempt biometric mode of Aadhaar authentication, including fingerprints and iris scans, for obtaining goods under the public distribution system. The order, which MediaNama has seen a copy of, was issued in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will remain in effect until further orders. The state’s food supplies and consumer welfare secretary Vir Vikram Yadav issued the order.

Odisha had 4,893 active COVID-19 cases, and 91 people in the state had succumbed to it, according to data maintained by the Union Health Ministry, at the time of publication.

District collectors have been ordered to issue necessary instructions to functionaries on the field, and Fair Price Shop dealers to comply with the directive. Instructions have also been issued to ensure social distancing while distribution of PDS commodities. Even though the order is dated July 17, the state’s Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Department on July 18 tweeted a photo of an individual authenticating their identity using fingerprints. We have reached out to the department to see if the order has been implemented on the ground yet.

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Odisha had made providing Aadhaar details mandatory for migrants returning to the state when the country was witnessing a migrant crisis in April, but later backtracked on the move following pressure from civil society organisations.

Kerala was the first state in the country to suspend biometric authentication for the public distribution system back in March. Both the central government as well as the Delhi government had also suspended fingerprint-based attendance systems at their offices as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

Following the first week of COVID-19 lockdown in India, we had reported that biometric transactions to withdraw cash using the Aadhaar enabled Payments Services (AepS)  had seen only a slight decline despite the entire country being under a lockdown. In March 2020, 181.81 million biometric transactions were done on Aadhaar enabled Payments Services, and for comparison, in January and February, 225.47 million and 216.72 million biometric transactions, respectively, were done on AePS.

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