A ration distribution scam involving the pilferage of over 2 lakh tonnes of food grains has rocked Uttar Pradesh. Spread across 43 districts of the state, an internal government probe revealed in late August that 1.86 lakh fraudulent transactions made through large-scale misuse of Aadhaar numbers diverted ration meant for the poor into the open market.
FIRs have been lodged against ration shop owners and a handful of computer operators in Department of Food and Civil Supplies in Noida, Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Allahabad, Muzzafarnagar, Agra and Meerut among other places.
A whistleblower who was fired from a rationing department office in Uttar Pradesh told The Quint that he was made to change Aadhaar numbers by the order of his seniors at the department. The basic modus operandi involved changing the Aadhaar number of genuine beneficiaries in the online database with other Aadhaar numbers to divert the grains into the open market.
Whistleblower Blames Govt Officials
The whistleblower, who worked as a privately hired computer operator, has levelled several allegations against officials of the Department of Food and Civil Supplies. They include:
Senior officials of the department of Food and Civil Supplies, in charge of managing the Public Distribution System, had directly supervised the changing of Aadhaar numbers of beneficiaries. The ration supply inspectors directed the whistleblower to use their login and passwords to enter the National Informatics Centre database to change Aadhaar numbers of beneficiaries. There was no formal recruitment process for computer operators in the Department of Food and Civil Supplies Office. The hired computer operators received no training from the department on how to handle sensitive data like Aadhaar numbers. The whistleblower said that his job included working with Aadhaar data.
The Modus Operandi
So, how were the Electronic Point of Sale (ePOS) machines rigged on the ground to enable the scam? The Aadhaar-enabled ePOS machines were introduced in ration shops to plug leaks and stop fraud.
A small team of privately hired computer operators across several districts was given access to the online database of genuine ration beneficiaries.
As instructed, the computer operator would replace the Aadhaar number of a genuine beneficiary with his own Aadhaar number. But, the operator would keep the beneficiary’s name unchanged.
He would then punch his own thumb on the ePOS machine. The fingerprint would get verified against his Aadhaar number that he had fed into the database.
He would get successfully authenticated based on his fingerprint and his Aadhaar number that he has fed in next to the beneficiary’s name on the database.
Once authenticated – and here’s the crucial part – the authentication receipt generated would contain the name of the real beneficiary and NOT the computer operator’s.
Why? Because the genuine beneficiary’s name in the database has remained unchanged and that’s the name that gets printed on the receipt by the ePOS machine.
Once the fraud transaction is complete, the operator would re-enter the district database, remove his Aadhaar number and put back the beneficiary’s original Aadhaar number.
Smart! Except, one of the computer operators turned whistleblower. >