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Biometric based rationing system a pipe dream

The scheme looks unrealistic and will miss the November 2015 deadline due to bureaucratic hurdles.

Biometric based rationing system a pipe dreamThe Maharashtra government’s decision to link all ration shops in Mumbai and suburban Thane district with a biometric system to check irregularities in the public distribution system (PDS) is likely to miss the November 2015 deadline due to bureaucratic hurdles. The streamlining of public distribution system is a mammoth task and time consuming process. The Fadnavis government has been making tall promises after coming to power but it has failed to implement them. The government had received flak for denying ration to APL card holders under the Food Security Act. Congress had asked the government to restore subsidy to the APL card holders.

Ex-employee of rationing office Madhukar Sable informed AV, “The Government has announced a deadline which is difficult to meet. Working on irregularities in such short time span is not possible, as the system is often blamed for its inefficiency and rural-urban bias.”

“The public distribution system has been plagued by instances of corruption and black marketing. Food grain mafia in rationing department needs to be identified and booked” he added.

Public distribution system is a government-sponsored chain of shops delegated with the work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to the needy sections of the society at very cheap prices. Wheat, rice, kerosene, sugar, etc. are a few major commodities distributed under the public distribution system. But most of the time it hardly reaches the beneficiary. Many a times, people are also cheated by rationing shops where they receive less than the actual amount that the customer pays for. Once the biometric system is in place, one will only need to touch his thumb on a device and officials at Mantralaya (state secretariat) will get all the details of the amount of food grains given to the buyer.

State Food and Civil Supplies department’s senior officer had issued statement mentioning that the linking will be done in a phased manner where all ration shops in Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivali region will be linked by Diwali, which falls in November this year, and thereafter the government will shift focus on Nagpur-Pune and Aurangabad districts.

According to sources from civil supply department, “Government lacks the necessary infrastructure and planning to execute the said project. Moreover, the government might be keen on curbing illegal distribution of food grains by rationing shops and has even alloted Rs 100 crore in the budget for this purpose. There are around 3,000 rationing shops in Mumbai and about 1,000 in Thane that will be linked to the biometric system. This can lead to another kind of corruption.

“The tendering, allocation of funds and sanctioning proposals can be lucrative pocket for corruption. Officials are yet to finalise the draft proposals, a final presentation will then be forwarded to the Food and Civil Supplies minister Girish Bapat and he will take a final call on the company. All this will require sufficient time.”

When AV tried to contact AAP leader Mayank Gandhi and RTI activist Anil Galgali they remained unavailable for comment.

Ration card holders are divided into three categories in the state. Families with a yearly income of below Rs.15,000 are issued yellow ration cards and are entitled to the maximum benefits under the public distribution system (PDS). Families with incomes above Rs.15,000 but below Rs.1 lakh are given a saffron coloured ration card, while families with income above Rs.1 lakh per annum are given white ration cards. Holders of white ration cards are not eligible for subsidized items. There are around 22.5 million yellow and saffron ration card holders. On average, every month, 375,000 tonnes of grains, 85,569 tonnes of sugar and 61,000 kilolitres of kerosene are distributed in Maharashtra through the PDS.

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