It was while responding to a snag at a fair price shop in Velachery that an official stumbled upon the option of using an OTP (one-time password) to disburse essential commodities.
The official wanted to ensure that ration cardholders did not have to go home empty-handed, though the Point of Sale (PoS) machine was not in a position to scan the ration cards. As it turned out, the machine had a provision which would render even the card superfluous.
What this feature permits the ration shop official to do is enter the registered mobile number of the cardholder. Once this is done, the cardholder gets an OTP on his or her mobile phone. When the password is keyed in, the system permits the official to access the database and enter the details of the cardholders entitlements, depending upon what the beneficiary gets at the shop.
The idea of making the OTP option the norm was mooted five years ago, but the proposal faced opposition from within the department on the grounds that not all ration cardholders would possess a mobile phone, and people in rural areas could be put to "severe hardship. But over the years, the authorities have realised that there is a deep penetration of mobile phones in the State, and the number of mobile phones registered with the Civil Supplies Department has crossed the two-crore mark. The official at the Velachery fair price shop, who wished to remain anonymous, said the intention was to avoid sending the cardholders back disappointed, especially at the beginning of the month. I am told that it will take at least 10 days to repair the machines camera, which scans the cards. I could have remained idle till then, telling people to return to the shop after 10 days. But I did not want to do that when an alternative provision in the machine was available, the official explained.
A senior official in the department said that as per the guideline, the option of using the registered mobile number for providing the commodities was to be exercised only when the PoS machines camera failed to operate and scan the cards.
Another improvement that was being planned by the department was to install machines at the fair price shops to capture the biometric details of the cardholders, the official added.