Collecting ration from government fair price shops is a routine chore for most families, but for 600 families in a Haryana village, it is nothing short of a misadventure. For the past six months, this task has been driving them up the wall. On to the roof, to be precise.
And the reason is the internet. Internet connectivity in Bhiwani district’s Kapadwas village is so patchy that the biometric device at the ration depot doesn’t work until it is taken to the roof, where the signal quality is slightly better. As a result, those seeking ration have to climb up the rungs of a precarious bamboo ladder to get to the roof to verify their fingerprints. The government’s Aadhaar-linked public distribution system requires ration depot holders (owners) to verify beneficiaries’ fingerprints or scan their retinas to ensure the benefits are passed on to the intended person.
“The depot holder wants my thumb impression to confirm the delivery of ration, but due to poor internet connectivity, I was made to climb a ladder as the POS device was not working (on the ground floor)” — Phoolo Devi, a 65-year-old resident of Kapadwas
The Kapadwas ration depot started using the biometric device last November, but it had to discontinue the exercise due to bad internet. The depot holders started using the device again in April when they figured out that the internet worked in parts on the rooftop.
“The depot holder wants my thumb impression to confirm the delivery of ration, but due to poor internet connectivity, I was made to climb a ladder as the POS (point of sale) device was not working (on the ground floor),” Phoolo Devi, a 65-year-old village resident, told FactorDaily.
Another beneficiary from the village, Sher Singh, 76, said the idea of biometric verification of beneficiaries is good, but the government should ensure it is practical too. Internet connectivity should not pose a hurdle to the exercise, he said.
Bir Singh, the ration depot holder, told FactorDaily that verifying fingerprints of one person alone can take up to an hour inside the ground floor shop. “Even I don’t like it, but circumstances have forced us to call villagers to the rooftop to get their thumb impression to complete the verification,” he said.
However, Bhiwani’s food and civil supplies controller Dr Anita Kharab said there’s a twist in the tale. Recently, the local edition of Hindi daily Dainik Jagran published a story on the predicament of the Kapadwas villagers. Taking note of this, Kharab visited the ration depot and says she found that the biometric device’s antenna was broken. She told FactorDaily that Singh has deliberately broken the antenna to bypass online verification so that he can continue to syphon off the food stock. She said Singh has even been served a notice in this regard, adding that internet connectivity is not an issue in Bhiwani district except in a few areas. The antenna was duly replaced.
Bhiwani’s food and civil supplies controller Dr Anita Kharab told FactorDaily that ration depot holder Bir Singh has deliberately broken the antenna to bypass online verification so that he can continue to syphon off food stock
The sarpanch of Kapadwas, Madan Lal, however, insisted that Singh is not at fault and that its internet that’s to blame.
Balwan Singh, president of Tosham Ration Depot Holder Association (Tosham is the tehsil under which Kapadwas falls), corroborated Lal’s view. He said depot holders are all for e-verification, but internet connectivity is a big problem in at least 10 villages in the area. He said ration depots in Sidan, Khawa, Bhadan and Sewawas villages were facing problems similar to the one in Kapadwas.
He added that while the monthly ration distribution used to take a few hours earlier, since the introduction of the biometric device, it takes an entire day. He said the ration depot holders have apprised Tosham’s food and civil supplies department about the problem and that they have been assured that the issue would be resolved soon.
Meanwhile, whether or not the new antenna on Singh’s biometric device can save Kapadwas villagers the trouble of having to climb on to the roof will become clear only when it’s time for ration distribution this month.
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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Inside image: Indervesh Duhan