Even after investing Rs 600 crore to privatise its public distribution system (PDS) in Madhya Pradesh, the government cannot claim of a completely flawless one.
Aimed at plugging the leakages, the government machinery is switching over from conventional paper ration card into digitised form. The new system, which will have food coupons linked with Unique Identification (UID ) number, is taking shape through a corporate consortium led by HCL Infosystems with Edenred India Private Ltd (subsidiary of corporate meal voucher provider Accor) and Virgo Softech Pvt Ltd, an Indore-based IT firm.
However, during this false ration cards are also likely to be converted into a digitised form as the same government machinery is engaged in the exercise. According to crude figures from government insiders nearly 40 per cent ration cards are false.
Unlike existing manual posting of subsidised food distribution at PDS shops, the shopkeepers will have to identify ration card holder through a biometric device and collect the food coupon to get quota from government. With this, Madhya Pradesh will become the first State to link its PDS to the UID.
“It is a gigantic exercise to convert APL (above poverty line) and BPL (below poverty line) ration card data into digitised version and issue food coupons,” said Dipali Rastogi, commissioner food and civil supplies corporation.
While speaking to Business Standard she added, “Further we can’t make them cent per cent leak-proof. At the most UID can address the problem of duplication of cards. The whole exercise will take at least five years and an investment of Rs 600 crore approximately in phased manner.”
When asked if there was any system to sieve out ration card holders of fake identity, she said, “Only biometric data collection is the solution. It should gel with the data available with us, yet we can’t rule out it completely.”
The system does not have any check on classification of families in the BPL census if identity fraud takes place. In case if the coupons never reaches the card holders and if it goes directly to the dealers; or dealers collects coupons of six months value and distributors only one month foodgrains.
“You cannot check all these man-made flaws, only a good surveillance system can work,” said Rastogi.
Interestingly government officials in one of the most poor and backward districts, where reportedly people mortgage their ration cards at the PDS shop owner, have been instructed to collect data of only government officials. “We are asked to collect data from only government staff initially and we will start capturing it soon,” said Jaishree Kiawat, collector Jhabua.
So far only one districts namely Hoshangabad has been touched upon to issue UID numbers and ration cards. Few more districts namely Khandwa, Burhanpur and Harda will start the process of converting available data into digitized form. Accordingly official figures so far 2.3 million people have been registered under UID in Hoshangabad and Harda district and 800 thousand have been issued UID number.
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