Sreelatha Menon: Getting smarter about welfare

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 13, 2011 06:16 hrs

One swipe of the smart card and hospital bills of up to Rs 30,000 can be paid under the Centrally sponsored Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). This potential of the smart card, unlocked for over twenty million beneficiaries of the scheme, is now set to empower beneficiaries of subsidised food grains in Orissa to buy wheat and rice. The idea is to have a single smart card serve multiple purposes.

The Orissa government has already got the approval of the Union labour ministry, which is the nodal ministry for RSBY, to use its smart card initially as an identification card under its public distribution system. It has also sought World Bank assistance to upgrade RSBY cards for supplying food grains under PDS. After the upgrade with new utilities embedded in the chip, the Orissa government would be the first in the country to have a smart ration card. Director General Labour Welfare Anil Sarup, who has been anchoring RSBY, says it is possible and sensible to have an RSBY smart card serve multiple purposes.

There is enough space in the RSBY card’s chip, which could be exploited to the full. The RSBY smart card has 32 KB of storage space, of which 17 KB is being used for RSBY’s medical insurance scheme. Other uses can be embedded in the remaining space. The space can be raised to 120 KB and put to varied uses.

There are over 22 million (22,806,768) RSBY smart card holders as the scheme is confined to below poverty line families at present. So, the PDS component for BPL families in various states would tally with that for RSBY card holders.

The Planning Commission had set up a task force on smart cards and their multiple uses in the 11th Five Year Plan. But, the panel overlooked the possibility of exploiting existing smart cards for other uses. It instead talked of creating a new smart card altogether.

Most recently, the Rangarajan Committee suggested the use of a smart card for the delivery of food once the food security Bill comes into effect. The committee had pitched it as a means to plug PDS leakage.

In Orissa, 0.43 million out of 0.7 million BPL card holders in six districts have been given RSBY cards. These cards are also biometric and are given at a premium of Rs 30 per year. Orissa Food Commissioner and Secretary AK Meena said the initiative was born out of the idea that it was better to have a single card for multiple purposes rather than several cards with sub-optimal use. He said discussions with the World Bank were at an advanced stage and on their conclusion, the rollout of upgraded cards would be possible.

"The idea is to show that RSBY cards can deliver multiple services. So, we will start with a small area and then spread out," he says.

Meanwhile, other states are yet to wake up to the possibilities of the RSBY card in their possession. The government may opt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to having a smart card-based food distribution system, rather than use existing cards already in the possession of twenty million households.

Each card can be split into five and benefits five members of the family wherever they may go within the country except states where the scheme is not operational, such as Andhra Pradesh.

The Planning Commission task force has already spelt out the different benefits that can be accessed through a smart card. Orissa would like to illustrate what it can do with the RSBY card.

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