How does biometric authentication impact the delivery of in-kind social programs? To contribute to the evidence base on this question we are conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the rollout of biometric authentication in the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the Indian state of Jharkhand. The PDS functions as a means of combating food insecurity by providing subsidized food (rice, wheat, sugar) and non-food items (kerosene) to households monthly through government-assigned "Fair Price Shops" (FPS). However, the PDS is plagued with leakages and plugging leakage is one of the top priorities of the government. One potential way to plug leakages is via electronic Point-of-Service (ePOS) machines that can be used to biometrically authenticate and electronically record transactions that take place at the FPS. The Government of Jharkhand is in the process of rolling out ePOS machines in the state and has agreed to randomize the rollout.
This study aims to evaluate the impact of the government’s deployment of ePOS machines on the value delivered to eligible beneficiaries, costs of delivery, and leakage, through a standard Randomized Control Trial (RCT) design, using data collected from multiple rounds of surveys in 10 districts of Jharkhand. The study also aims to inform policy decisions since results garnered will provide useful insight into operational difficulties and will have nation-wide policy applications, since most states are expected to switch to this system in the near future.