The Telegraph
Sunday , October 14 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slow state to review ration card pact

Ranchi, Oct. 13: Food and civil supplies minister Mathura Prasad Mahto has approved a proposal to review his department’s agreement with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for issuing ration cards, with the government lagging behind its promise of delivering the document to lakhs of applicants.

He has also directed department officials to submit proposals for speeding up the process of issuing computerised ration cards and look at outsourcing the task to agencies, if required.

After coming into power two years ago, the Arjun Munda government had declared that new PDS (public distribution system) ration cards would be issued to below poverty line as well as above poverty line families in the state.

Until the previous fiscal year (2011-12), the government received over 65 lakh applications. However, barely around 15,000 ration cards have been distributed.

The government entered into an agreement with NIC at the start of the ongoing financial year to issue ration cards.

A senior official of the department confided that a former principal secretary of food and civil supplies had virtually locked horns with the minister, pressing for awarding the contract to NIC. The minister approved the idea eventually.

“But NIC is already overburdened with various other works and it has even engaged private computer operators on contract basis in most cases. Thus, the very purpose of engaging NIC has been defeated. Under existing circumstances, it will take nearly nine months to prepare one lakh ration cards,” the official told The Telegraph.

As a face-saving measure, the department is now striving to distribute at least one lakh ration cards among applicants during statehood day celebrations on November 15.

Even if the target is achieved, how and when the state manages to issue the 64 lakh more ration cards will remain a steep challenge.

“We have to work out viable alternatives. The agreement with NIC will be reviewed. If we stick to the current pace of work, distribution of the remaining 64 lakh ration cards may take another five to seven years. We may soon float tenders to complete the work early,” argued Mahto, hinting that the government might soon look to engage multiple agencies for the purpose.

Ironically, the chief minister’s Johar Yatra — a tour of four districts to inspect welfare schemes — starting on October 16 is being viewed as a step towards making the PDS more people-friendly.

Yesterday, Munda also declared several ambitious plans involving expenses to the tune of Rs 200 crore for computerisation of the PDS.

However, when asked, the food and civil supplies minister admitted that at present no steps were being taken to introduce biometric system in PDS supplies.

Mahto said that necessary steps could be taken if budgetary provisions were made during the next fiscal or in the coming supplementary budgets.

To mobilise funds for the purpose, the government would also seek the Centre’s support, he added.

“To eliminate irregularities in PDS supplies, introducing biometric system is the only solution and our government is committed to execute it. Payment of wages to MGNREGS workers through the biometric system has been extremely successful in Ramgarh. Now, we want to introduce it in PDS as well,” he added.