Biometric authentication to benefit farmers: Centre

It will aid in tracking end use beneficiary: Piyush Goyal

In a bid to cut out middleman and ensure greater transparency in the procurement of farm produce, the Centre is encouraging States to deploy biometric authentication of farmers.

The practice, already adopted in Uttar Pradesh and set to be rolled out in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha this year, will aid in tracking the end use beneficiary, Food Minister Piyush Goyal said at a press conference on Thursday.

Online payments

The initiative comes at a time when farmers are agitating for a legal guarantee that all their crops will be procured at a minimum support price (MSP), and demanding the repeal of three farm reform laws that they believe will weaken the current system of procurement at State-run markets. In States such as Punjab and Haryana, where the agitation has been strongest, middlemen who act as commission agents or arhitiyas are a key part of the procurement process at these mandis.

The Centre had already taken steps to roll out online payments to farmers who sell their produce to the government, said Food Ministry Additional Secretary Edwin Kulbhushan Majhi. It had directed the State governments of Haryana and Punjab to ensure payments in e-mode from the upcoming season, and was expecting all States to follow suit this year.

“We would like all payments released by the Central government to farmers, that we are able to track them online. There should not be any intermediaries, farmers should not be given cheques to be encashed. The money should go directly into the farmers’ accounts,” said Mr. Majhi.

Faster process

The next step was the biometric authentication scheme that U.P. had already rolled out. “The entire process of procurement has to be made faster. Once you have data of farmers available, and once they are bio-authenticated, the entire details are digitally available to the procurement machinery, the kind of crop he’s cultivating, the kind of landholding he has, all the details are available,” said Mr. Majhi.

This initiative reduced the need for extensive paperwork, prevented leakages and speeded up the process of procurement, with payment settlement being completed within 72 hours, he said, adding efficiency and greater cost-effectiveness to the system.

“The other advantage is that the farmer gets a receipt for his goods, showing the quantity and the MSP price, so nobody can cheat the farmer. He gets the full fair price,” said Mr. Goyal. He did not respond to a query whether bio authentication would be mandatory for farmers to participate in the procurement process.

“States are welcoming it, it is easier for the farmer, the farmer doesn’t have to depend on the middleman or the arhitiyas,” added Mr. Majhi.

With regard to the Economic Survey’s recommendation for a hike in the subsidised prices of rice and wheat sold at ration shops, Mr. Goyal said it was not under consideration at the moment. “At present, there is no such proposal in the Ministry to increase the prices of products given under the [National] Food Security Act. It continues to be ₹3, ₹2 and ₹1 for rice, wheat and coarse grain [respectively],” he said.

The Economic Survey had urged that prices be hiked in order to reduce the burgeoning food subsidy bill.

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