The Civil Supplies Department’s proposal to introduce smart cards for the distribution of ration food grains may prove a non-starter as the department is considering replacing it with Aadhaar-validated distribution through PDS shops.

A meeting that Chief Minister Oommen Chandy held with Food and Civil Supplies Minister Anoop Jacob, Labour Minister Shibu Baby John and State Planning Board Vice-Chairman last December had mooted the idea of making smart cards compulsory for all ration-card holders to buy food grains through the ration shops.

“The idea was to integrate the PDA database into the smart cards issued under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY). But now an opinion has evolved against it on account of the cost factor. In fact, a meeting held on Monday has thrown up the idea of linking PDS to Aadhaar,” Mr. Jacob told The Hindu on Wednesday. Cabinet would have a final say on it, he said.

A senior official with the Civil Supplies Department said while PDS database integration into the RSBY smart cards was technically feasible it was not cost-effective. “There are about 34 lakh RSBY beneficiaries in the State whereas the corresponding figure for PDS beneficiaries comes to more than 80 lakh. Issuing smart cards to the remaining more than 40 lakh beneficiaries would have cost the exchequer about Rs.55-60 crore,” he said.

Unlike many north Indian States where Aadhaar enrolment still languishes at 20-30 per cent, it has crossed 90 per cent in Kerala. The seamless internet connectivity across the State was another advantage in adopting the system, he said.

The Civil Supplies Department veered towards the Aadhaar-based system after A. Babu, Joint Collector of East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, gave a detailed presentation on the successful implementation of the system in 100 shops covering 1.70 lakh ration cardholders there over the last four months.

“A study has proved that the system has been able to save the exchequer to the tune of Rs. 128 crore in our district alone. In fact we could save 20 per cent of food grains and 35 per cent of kerosene, which were earlier pilfered through duplication and bogus ration cards. The system has already been adopted in Hyderabad where 50 shops are covered under it while plans are afoot to scale it up and cover entire Andhra Pradesh. A delegation of the World Food Programme, which has already recommended it to the Union government, was here till Wednesday to study the system,” Mr. Babu told The Hindu from East Godavari district.

Initially, the PDS data related to the entire 46 lakh ration cardholders in the district were fed into and integrated with the Aadhaar database. This meant that a biometric device placed at individual ration shops was able to retrieve all data like whether the cardholder belongs to BPL or APL category, the monthly food grains quota etc as soon as the ration cardholder put his thumb impression.

The machine is also capable of verifying whether the entire stock taken from the stock points was delivered at the shops. “As soon as the delivery in entered in to the machine, it sends out an SMS to ration cardholders informing that their quota is ready for delivery,” Mr. Babu said.

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