Maharashtra move to digitise ration cards hits tech hurdle

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on January 22, 2013

An attendant pours kerosene into a container at a local ration shop in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. More than three-quarters of the 1.2 billion population in India eat less than minimum targets set by the government, up from about two-thirds, or 472 million people, in 1983. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg   -  Bloomberg

It has been over five years since the Maharashtra Government first considered introducing digital ration cards in the State. The project, which continues to languish at the drawing board, has been hanging fire because the supporting technology has not yet been approved.

In 2005, the State Government considered digitising the records of the Department of Food and Civil Supplies, to prevent rampant pilferage of food and kerosene by individuals using bogus ration cards. In July 2007, the first tenders were floated for digitisation of data and replacing the regular ration cards with smart cards.

Though IT company Spanco won the bid in September 2008, the Department added new technical conditions to the contract, such as the inclusion of biometric data of the beneficiaries.

A company official, speaking to Business Line on condition of anonymity, said the new technical conditions were beyond the scope of the original tender. The company opted for a legal remedy and the arbitration process is under way. Asked about the project’s progress, a senior Maharashtra Government official said that till date, the Department has digitised only 50 per cent of the records.

The ‘front-end’, the digital interface between the card and the foodgrain inventory management system, has not yet been created.

There are about 2.5 crore ration card-holders in the State. However, the government has noticed that around 15 per cent of the cards are bogus or duplicate. Sandeep Pimple, Chief Executive Officer of Upass, a technology company that provides smart-card based solutions, said that currently, technology has advanced to such an extent that the department will not need big devices to read the smart cards. Even a mobile phone with Near Field Communication (NFC) could be used for reading and authenticating the card and carrying out transactions, he added.

Given the scope of such technologies, the flaws in the foodgrain distribution system could be overcome by their use. The management information systems and inventory management could also be updated in real time, added Pimple.

> rahul.wadke@thehindu.co.in

Published on January 22, 2013

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