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India’s One Nation One Ration Card Scheme: An IT enabler for the Hungry Stomach

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One Nation One Ration Card to be effective nationwide from June 2020

The Government of India, has again announced that the “One Nation One Ration Card” is to be effective nationwide from June 2020. The Centre has given States and Union Territories time till 30 June 2020 to roll out the ‘one nation, one ration card’ system, under which beneficiaries can buy subsidised food grains from ration shops in any part of the country. The Food Minister Shri Ram Vilas Paswan said already 10 states — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tripura — are providing portability of Public Distribution System (PDS) entitlements. This is in-line with the already enacted and adopted provisions under the “National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013”. This would be made available after biometric/Aadhaar authentication on ePoS (electronic Point of Sale) devices at the Fair Price Shops (FPS). The facility of inter-state portability under the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ initiative would be available only through the Fair Price Shop (FPS) having fully online ePoS devices. This dream scheme of the Government also comes with a large number of challenges and also Cyber Security issues.

Is One Nation One Ration Card Scheme Beneficial for Indians?

This Scheme is seen to be a big game changer and is also a challenge for the IT Systems/Software and Connectivity, including the Infrastructure Challenges. The large population in India who are dependent on the Public Distribution System for food, requires a very robust and ubiquitous utilisation of IT Infrastructure and Systems, as also it should be Battle Hardened both in terms of Connectivity and Redundancy.  There are numerous benefits if the ‘one nation, one ration’ system” is well implemented:

  • Curb Corruption in the PDS and will ensure the benefits reaching the ‘last mile’
  • Curb Pilferages in food stocked by the Government
  • Faster Provisioning by tracking the usage of ration
  • Avoids unnecessary movement of goods and correct provisioning at PoS
  • The generation of MIS and Reports thereby ensuring appropriate stocking of the commodities
  • Improved quality of food items being distributed
  • Better management of Shelf-Life, Expiry Dates and FIFO (First in First out) Procedures
  • The tracking of Malnutrition and also Excessive Consumption
  • Ability of the consumer to collect the leftover rations not supplied in one shop form a different shop
  • Removal of monopoly of the ration shops in any particular area
  • Benefits to ‘migrating working class’ and also tracking of the migrant population
  • Better Disaster Recovery, due to IT enabling of services
  • No More Manual record keeping and adoption of the digital real-time record-keeping method
  • The scheme and the project is a IT project and relies more on IT Cyber Systems and Services

The Cyber or Digital Challenges to India’s One Nation, One Ration Card Scheme

India did face all the allied challenges while implementing the Aadhaar Project, wherein 1.25 Billion Subscribers were to be got under the ambit of the otherwise ambitious project. India did implement the project with style and precision. However a project of this nature is never without challenges:

  • Creating one time Ration Subscriber database & managing on continuous basis
  • Infrastructure for creating mass human resources for the Scheme– operators, supervisors, tech support, etc
  • Enrolment and Linking of the FPS or PoS
  • The refreshed scheme of enrolment into the scheme
  • The tracking of Death
  • The authentication of Dependency
  • The checks for unauthorised enrolment
  • Availability of infrastructure for enrolment activities
  • The Back-all Connectivity
  • the Last Mile Connectivity
  • The Uninterrupted services
  • Real time authentication
  • De-duplication
  • Data privacy and data security
  • Credibility of the authentication process
  • Safeguard of Privacy due to the linkage of Biometric Data/Credentials
  • Safeguard from Data Theft
  • Safeguard from unauthorised access
  • Safeguard from Sabotage
  • Cyber Security Challenges
  • Etc

The Way Forward for a Successful Implementation of the “One Nation One Ration” Scheme

It is to be understood that India in its path of development will have to embrace IT and IT Services to cater for the large population that live in the country. On one hand we are burdened by compulsive inhibitions that are affected by our adverse culture and bad practices, and on the other hand we are to cater for the poor and the vulnerable population of the country. If One were to talk of the Migrant Labour Class, they certainly need a better access to both, welfare and labour laws to protect their rights and entitlements along with food security. Therefore, the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ should create inclusion in food schemes, both, at source and destination, without negating the very spirit of our Constitutional Guarantees.

Use of technologies like installation of ePoS machines at FPSs and computerisation of supply chain management of Food Corporation of India (FCI) operations would help in increasing the overall efficiency of the entire process, while maintaining transparency and curbing corruption. The depots of FCI and Central Warehousing Corporation are fully automated at present.  There are over 5.35 lakh Fair Price Shops, and presently 23 Crore ration card holders. This infrastructure and Database is now to be integrated and mapped with the envisaged National “One Nation One Ration Card” Scheme.

Another concern is the speculations with regard to the threat to the Federal structure of the Nation by many leaders and social workers. They say that this is because the centre has not yet given an assurance to bear the cost of the subsidised items for migrant population who cross states and also lack of effort to maintain ‘price parity’ across all states. Also the argument that the food habits and liking are more regional, is also an issue that may arise in centralisation of such schemes.

The Opinion of the Cyber Community and Suggestions to the Government

The Cyber Community is of the view that the present exercise of “One Nation One Ration Card” may be a duplication effort, as the Aadhaar does cater for the identification, unification, centralisation, segregation (on economic income, demography, etc), provisions for biometric discrimination (distinguishing), authentication and verified database; hence the same database and profile can be re-used to now profile and manage the “One Nation One Ration” Scheme, rather than catering for another card and IT infrastructure for Food Security.

Furthermore, as Cyber Security Evangelists; it is advised that, the opening of another vector that is truly again vulnerable to all the similar threats that exists in any IT System that caters for e-Governance Schemes, is not desired.

Also, it is felt that Food Security is not just for the poor or for that matter it is not just for the 23 Crore Ration Card Holders; but is for the complete 1.25 Billion Citizens of India. The Ration Card is the only means of probably distributing Onions at the rate of Rs 35/- Per Kg to all Citizens equally without discrimination, when the market rate has been escalated by Colonial Elements, Crony Capitals, Middle-Man, Machiavellian Stockiest or Mandi Lobbyists. It is to be remembered that ‘food shortage’ and ‘famine like situation’ can occur at any point of time and can affect any class of population (the rich and the poor alike); thereby the ‘One India One Ration Card’ can then be a tool to extend Citizen Rights equally among all people irrespective of Class, Creed, Color, Religion, Economic Status, Language, Gender, Region, Demography, etc….   So are we open to reconsideration.

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