Aakash tablets for disbursal of subsidised grain, LPG

Written by Kiritika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 16 2012, 06:42am hrs
The government plans to use the newly launched Aakash 2 tablets for disbursal of subsidised goods like grain and cooking gas to the intended beneficiaries. The tablets will be used to ensure that a person who seeks to buy goods at subsidised rates is indeed eligible for the benefit. This would be done by verifying the biometric data of the person with the database with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

This is a facility similar to the micro ATMs being rolled out for cash payments under various welfare and pension schemes. The Aadhaar-enabled unified payment infrastructure is already in place for payments under the rural employment guarantee scheme.

This is how Aakash 2 tablets will be useful for sale of subsidised commodities: There will be a biometric device say, a fingerprint scanner with every vendor connected to the tablet. The buyer will be asked to have his fingers scanned and also punch in his Aadhaar number on the tablet. If the two data sets match, he or she will be identified as eligible for the subsidy entitlement.

We are developing a fingerprint scanner which directly hooks up to Aakash 2. The development and testing of these devices is on although it will take a while before large-scale rollouts are possible. There are other kinds of biometric interfaces also. An iris scanner is also being developed, said Suneet Singh Tuli, chief executive of Canada-based DataWind, the company that developed the Aakash.

This means that Aakash is the second device after micro ATMs that will run Aadhaar-related applications.

The Aadhaar-enabled Aakash will have to be further integrated with other applications related to PDS and other schemes. This is when the Aakash will be used for authentication and transactions done on the Aadhaar platform. The tablet can double up for micro ATMs also but not replace them, said RS Sharma, director general, UIDAI.

Micro ATMs, which are operated by business correspondents, cost R10,000 each while the Aakash is priced at R2,263. The authority expects close to 1 lakh transactions per month through such ATMs and the the device will not have any money, unlike regular bank ATMs, and the beneficiary would get the withdrawn amount from the business correspondent on the spot. As per estimates, the government will have to bear a burden of R1,000 crore to set up the network of 10 lakh interoperable micro ATMs across the country.

The government has already rolled out Aadhaar-enabled service delivery initiatives in 51 districts across the country for making pension payments, rural employment scheme payments, PDS distribution and scholarship payments, among others.

During the first phase of enrolment in the last two years, the UIDAI with the help of its registrars and other stakeholders managed to enrol 20 crore residents, which made Aadhaar the worlds largest biometric-based identity database. The UIDAI was given the mandate to enrol a further 40 crore enrolments by 2014.

However, the finger scanner will not be used be used to enrol people in the Aadhaar system. We need a full-fledged computer for enrolments. Moreover, there are not so many USB slots in the Aakash, Sharma said.

Tuli added that the new tender for the second version of the Aakash floated by the ministry of human resource development had specifications for Aadhaar applications, which was not the case with the original contract.

It was additional work and not an additional specification. The Aadhaar-related applications are being tested in the field, Tuli said.