Wheat grain

The government has repeatedly claimed that Aadhaar linking to schemes lke PDS and MNREGA has created massive savings in welfare outlay by detecting fakes/ ghosts and duplicates. Ridiculously huge numbers are thrown around as “proof”. Not only are these claims fictitious, the government is deliberately falsifying information to convince citizens about the utility of Aadhaar.

None of the cancelled ration card datasets are complete

None of the datasets on cancelled ration cards appear to list data for all of India’s states and Union Territories, so, the total of each dataset is also unreliable, since it omits data from some or the other state or Union Territory.

There are instances where government announcements of cancelled ration cards due to Aadhaar do not reflect in the statistics – for example 11 ration lakh cards deleted in Jharkhand – but the official data shows no indication of anything over six lakh at most.

There does not appear to be any authentic source for data cancelled ration cards in PDS data

While there are numerous reports over the years for total numbers of ration cards as well as ration cards that are cancelled, there does not appear to be a single source of data that is complete or accurate. And the different sources contradict each other.

In theory, the states provide the PDS data to the government, and the government provides compiled numbers. In order to compile data for this article, I have gone through multiple official sources of data (examples in links), including data presented in the Parliament in response to questions, data released through press releases, Department of Food & Public Distribution reports and random claims made by various politicians.

The records on cancelled ration cards use different methods for reporting

Some datasets state the number of cards cancelled in each state and Union Territory by year. Others give cumulative numbers with each year. So one set of numbers will present a, b, c, d as the number of cards deleted, another will show the cancelled cards as a, a+b, a+b+c, a+b+c+d with different sets of years and no matching numbers between them.

The numbers don’t add up

Depending on the source, the number of ration cards cancelled can vary wildly. For example, according to the answer to one question in the Parliament, the number of ration cards cancelled in Assam in 2016-17 is 1,29,243. According to another, the total number of ration cards deleted between 2013 and 2017 in Assam is 1,11,182. Both are official data placed before the Parliament. Take your pick – the politicians clearly do. (2016-2017) (2013-2017)

This may be explained if some of the reports entirely or numbers submitted by some states vary between number of cards actually cancelled and reduction in total number of cards. Or some states reporting the numbers by year and others cumulative, which get added to one or the other dataset. Or something. Or they are simply making up numbers as they go along?

Jump to the end of the page to see the compiled data – it is not possible to graph this with any honesty.

The few conclusions that can be drawn contradict government’s claims on savings from Aadhaar linking.

The government has repeatedly claimed that Aadhaar linking has created savings in PDS due to removing fake / ghost and duplicate ration cards. This is blatantly false for several reasons:

  • There is no data for fake/ ghost or duplicate cards found – anywhere.
  • The government it is claiming all cards deleted, for any reason – moved address, no longer eligible, etc as well to have been deleted due to Aadhaar! In other words, if you move to another state, your ration card is bogus and you moved because of Aadhaar?
  • There is no corresponding saving seen in any related financial records.

Aadhaar linking with ration cards did not contribute to the alleged 90,000 crore savings in welfare

Looking at the amounts incurred annually on subsidies by the Food Corporation of India from 2001 to now, it appears Aadhaar hasn’t so much as caused a bump in the curve, let alone reduce the costs.

India has 23,21,34,909 or 23.2 crore Aadhaar cards. If 3 crore were cancelled, it is roughly 12.93% of all Aadhaar cards. Even if we consider 2.3 crore bogus/ghost/ineligible cards removed, the number is still a tenth of all cards approximately and should reflect on expenditure.

If the government saved any money at all by linking Aadhaar to PDS, how is it not reflected in the subsidies incurred annually by the Food Corporation of India?

Note: The figures for 2017-18 are revised and those for 2018-19 are estimated, but it is clear that Aadhaar has caused no decrease in what the government spends on subsidies.

The budget doesn’t show any decreases either.

2.3 crore, 2.75 crore or 3 crore ration cards cancelled due to Aadhaar?

As mentioned before, there is no data on ration cards cancelled due to any wrongdoing as opposed to others that are cancelled for reasons like changed eligibility, change of address, and so on. The government appears to be claiming all cancellations are due to Aadhaar – which makes no sense, because Aadhaar cannot provide information like eligibility or change of address – unless the government tracks more than it admits.

According to the data put before the Parliament, 1.65 crore ration cards had been cancelled till July 2016 (from 2013). In 2013, the Aadhaar enrolment rate was 28% and linking Aadhaar with ration cards was not mandatory. There is no reason to believe that any significant portion of the cancelled cards is due to Aadhaar linking helping detect fraud.

1.28 crore ration cards were cancelled in 2016 and 2017 Please note that this data would have an overlap of 7 months with the previous.

Accusations about ration cards being cancelled if not linked to Aadhaar have some support in the statistics

Note: The Aadhaar Act passed into law in 2016; around this time there was a concerted effort to make Aadhaar pervasive in terms of making it de facto mandatory for not just welfare schemes, but also mobile and financial services. It has been argued that, with challenges to Aadhaar linking growing in the courts, this was the phase when the government was truly challenged to demonstrate that Aadhaar was actually making a positive difference in improving the efficacy of welfare schemes – the stated original purpose of the scheme.

The Right to Food campaign has long been raising the alarm over denial of food subsidies resulting in starvation deaths and exclusion distress. To see if there was a corelation between the cancelled ration cards, and reports of exclusion, I calculated the percentage of ration cards deleted out of total ration cards in the state for each state I had data for. The data being unreliable, this graph cannot cover all states, but it does give a good idea of the corelation between a greater percentage of Aadhaar cards being deleted and distress. You will be able to recognize the names of the states with higher percentages below from news reports of exclusion.

To get this data, I subtracted the cumulative data till 2015 from the cumulative data till 2016 to get an estimate of ration cards deleted in the second half of 2015. I removed any “wonky” numbers (see Assam example above) and added the numbers to the cards deleted in 2016-17. Then I calculated the percentage of cards deleted in the two years or so before the reports of exclusions started coming in.

I also deleted any states without all the data calculated being filled.

According to offical data, Jharkhand would be 8% (under 6 lakh). This chart uses calculations according to news reports of 11 lakh cards deleted due to Aadhaar. But the pattern of higher exclusion matching higher percentage of cards cancelled holds even with the lower number.

To get a further idea of whether the higher percentage of deletions that coincided with states reporting exclusion distress had any significance, I compared the change in the numbers of ration cards between the years 2016 and 2017. Most states which reported higher percentages of deletions and also news reports of distress also appear to have greater increases numbers of ration cards in 2017 as compared with other states.

To me, this indicates that a large number of ration cards that were cancelled had to be reissued. The chart below compares the percentage of increase/decrease in cards between 2016 and 2017 with the percentage of ration cards cancelled in the two years before. You will see that almost all states with more than 8% of the ration cards cancelled show an increase in cards in the next year.

If the data on cards cancelled were more reliable, it could be possible to draw further conclusions, but the data being what it is (see below), this is at best a crude attempt at gaining insight from the official numbers. It cannot be considered conclusive (who really knows what the numbers are?) but it does provide enough insight to warrant further examination of the impact of ration card cancellations that were carried out as a part of the Aadhaar seeding process.

There were also news reports from various states that legitimate cards that got cancelled would be reissued – this appears suspiciously similar to the earlier mobile-Aadhaar linking coercion where several instances have been reported of Airtel SIM cards being deactivated (including one of an Aadhaar official) and getting new working SIM cards requiring Aadhaar numbers.

Activists working on the ground have claimed that they verified the cancelled ration cards, and often found that the beneficiaries existed and were eligible, but had their cards cancelled due to issues with linking. This correlates with the numbers here.

Putting all this together, the only conclusion possible is that Aadhaar has harmed welfare more than helped. This, however, raises another – and possibly more significant – question…

Where did all the purported savings go?

The data does confirm that ration cards were cancelled, which should have resulted in savings. However, the subsidy amounts incurred show no signs of decreasing. So what is the subsidy being spent on?

Responses to RTIs shared by Orionis57 on Twitter indicate that other factors could be contributors to PDS savings reported.

The reply is illuminating as it highlights several factors that could lead to savings apart from Aadhaar – (a) digitization of ration cards/beneficiary and other databases, (b) computerization of supply-chain management, (c) setting up of transparency portals; and …
(d) … “apart from adoption of other means such as detection of in-eligible beneficiaries/families, transfer/migration of families, death(s), change in the economic status of the household (e.g. govt, job) etc” – none of (d) can be determined by Aadhaar


Activists have long held that, of the three kinds of fraud plaguing welfare schemes, identity fraud was the one that Aadhaar was touted to solve – but such fraud is clearly not the reason for most of the damage to welfare schemes, as confirmed by the data analyzed in this post.

Appendix – sort of.

The chart below shows the records for total numbers of ration cards generated. This is also the source of my data for total number of cards in each state in 2016.

Download the data used in this visualization

Download source.

Here is the cancelled ration card data. Make what sense of it as you will

State / Union TerritoryAs of 30.06.2014 from DFPDAs of 31.12.2014 from DFPDAs of 30.6.2015 from DFPDAs of 16.02.2016 from DFPDAs of 21.7.2017 in response to question in ParliamentRation cards cancelled in 2016-17
A&N Islands0.
Andhra Pradesh29.1929.1929.1937.241,150,212.00480,472.00
Arunachal Pradesh0.,911.004,452.00
Dadra & Nagar Haveli549.00549.00
Daman & Diu363.00369.00
Himachal Pradesh0.,260.00
Jammu & Kashmir0.,373.00
Madhya Pradesh24.9724.9724.9724.99418,509.00417,196.00
Tamil Nadu4.,746.0088,209.00
Uttar Pradesh9.,170,894.006,351,956.00
West Bengal (individual cards)200.73200.73200.73273.256,613,961.00
States/UTs2013201420152016State-wise Total
Andaman & Nicobar0037NA37
Andhra Pradesh08490000NA849000
Arunachal Pradesh1387599343NA14911
Chandigarh (on DBT)000NA0
Dadra & Nagar Haveli000NA0
Daman & Diu000NA0
Himachal Pradesh23500NA235
Jammu and Kashmir000NA0
Madhya Pradesh000NA0
Puducherry (on DBT)54173929507NA26953
Tamil Nadu12395696406114175NA334537
Uttar Pradesh00638152NA638152
West Bengal275198119773111834284NA6563576
Grand Totals341754149335386690598145057816492255
Vidyut is a commentator on socio-political issues with a keen understanding of tech and policy. She has been observing and commenting on Aadhaar since 2010 from a perspective of human rights, democracy and technological robustness.

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