Home / Politics / Policy /  Biometric ID to be mandatory at fair price shops in Maharashtra

Mumbai: Biometric identification is to be made mandatory for those buying subsidized grains, sugar and kerosene from fair price shops in Maharashtra in order to cut out fraud.

A pilot project showed that the offtake of subsidized grains may fall by one-third if such a system is implemented.

“The experiment in three tehsils of Pune, Sangli and Jalgaon districts had shown that it reduced consumption of grains by almost 30%," said the state’s civil supplies, food and consumer affairs minister Girish Bapat.

The aim, he said, is not to reduce consumption, but to ensure that the subsidized grain reaches the intended beneficiaries and not diverted into the open market.

“We plan to roll out a biometric identification plan across the state over the next six months and the estimated cost of the project is around 200 crore," Bapat said.

In Maharashtra, ration card holders are divided in three categories. Families with a yearly income of below 15,000 are given yellow ration cards and are entitled to the maximum benefits under the public distribution system (PDS). Families with incomes above 15,000 but below 1 lakh are given a saffron coloured ration card, while families with income above 1 lakh per annum are given white ration cards. Holders of white ration cards are not eligible for subsidized items and the card is largely used as a document for identification.

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. A kilolitre is equal to 1,000 litres.

The government’s plan appears to have found support.

Suresh Sawant, convenor of Rationing Hakka Kruti Samiti. or Action Committee for Right to PDS, said the group supports all technological innovations the government wants to introduce as this will help ensure that subsidized items reach those whom they are intended for.

“...but government will have to ensure architecture of such schemes is robust, otherwise entrenched vested interests in the systems ensure such experiments fail," said Sawant.

Sawant cites the example of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where attempts to use technology to make the PDS system more efficient have not worked.

According to Sawant, in Madhya Pradesh, fair price shop owners distributed smart cards that had been tampered with, or told consumers that the cards would not work due to the unavailability of electricity.

“Similarly, the Rajasthan government launched a scheme to transfer subsidy given for kerosene directly into the accounts of beneficiaries, without bothering to check how many beneficiaries have a bank account and how close or far the banks are from these beneficiaries," he added

According to Rajiv Vaishnav, vice-president, Nasscom, the scheme, once implemented, will help improve inventory management and make distribution more effective.

“The use of technology can help to improve citizen outreach, inventory management and data collection, leading to transparency and more effective distribution. In this way, technology can help to weed out duplication, and once successful on a pilot stage, it can be scaled up for increased implementation, ensuring benefits to the right people," said Vaishnav.

Beryl Menezes contributed to this story.

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