Iraq wants to learn from India’s success story in using smart-card technology that delivers health insurance to the poor to reform its public distribution system (PDS) too.

The World Bank has invited Indian Labour Department officials to Istanbul, Turkey, to share their expertise on smart cards used in the national health scheme (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana) with the Iraqi Government, which is keen to move from a universal PDS to a targeted system.

“The Iraq Government wants to learn how we have used the smart-card technology in our RSBY scheme and how the same cards are now being used by State governments to deliver PDS without leakages,” Additional Secretary in Labour Ministry Anil Swarup told Business Line.

Feasible design

In a letter to Swarup, the World Bank said that Iraq had requested the workshop to inform and persuade parliamentarians and high-level policy makers through brainstorming sessions on designing a feasible and credible reform path.

“We would like you to share your experience with Iraq. Our counterparts will be looking for examples of implementation mechanisms such as the smart card that reduce leakage and allow for greater accountability. In this context, your past and current expertise will be very valuable,” the letter said.

In India, while the Chattisgarh Government has already started using the RSBY biometric card to deliver PDS in a phased manner in the State, the Kerala Government has shown greater initiative and wants to deliver PDS using the RSBY cards across the entire State by July this year.

“We have already had several meetings with the State Chief Minister and his team of officials on using RSBY cards for giving out rations to the poor at subsidised rates. We are confident that the infrastructure will be in place soon,” Swarup said.

Others interested too

It is not just Iraq, but several other developing countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Ghana that are looking at the RSBY smart-card model to deliver subsidised goods in their countries.

“The fact that the system does away with ghost-users completely and makes it so easy to track transactions makes it attractive for developing countries that are weighed down by leakages,” Swarup said.

India has more than 120 million beneficiaries of the UPA government’s RSBY health insurance scheme, mostly belonging to the unorganised sector. In Kerala, additional RSBY cards will be given to PDS users not covered by the scheme.

(This article was published on January 18, 2013)
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