Video Editor: Purnendu PritamA 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. Aadhaar Ration Scam: PDS Shop Owners Pilfered From the Poor in UPWhistleblower Blames Govt OfficialsThe 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 OperandiSo, 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.Step 1A small team of privately hired computer operators across several districts was given access to the online database of genuine ration beneficiaries.Step 2As 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.Step 3He 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.Step 4He 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.Step 5Once 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.Step 6Once 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.Q&A With WhistleblowerWhat were you made to do as a computer operator in the Department of Food and Civil Supplies Office?For a long time, there was illegal work happening at the office which caused losses worth several crores to the government. We weren’t aware that we were being made to do things that were illegal. We were taught to manipulate the ePOS machine, open the login and change the ID. My senior officers would give us their ID credentials for logging in to the system.What kind of instructions were you given that were illegal?Like using the dealers machine to generate (fraudulent) receipts. They would tell us to login using the computer and remove the first Aadhaar number and use our Aadhaar and fingerprint to generate the receipt. This would all happen using my superior’s ID and password. They would give us the login and that’s how this would work. Did you know all this was illegal?We did not know this was wrong. I did not expect that in a government office, a fraud of this magnitude worth crores would be happening like this. Everyone thinks that if he is working in a government office, he is in a respectable job.Had we known this was illegal, we would not have done it. The authorities who were making us do this, do they not see their own involvement in the fraud? Do they not see what they are doing with young boys like us? Now they have filed an FIR against us.How were you hired and did you receive any training ?There are no vacancies and haven’t ever been. They had hired private computer operators. Three were on contract basis. What they had said was that if an operator was overburdened, then he would be told to get another person – a brother or relative, anyone who could do the work – on board to help out and the department would pay for them. No, there was no training given to us.Operators are hired on the basis of personal familiarity. If someone knows an individual personally, that person can be hired.What kind of work did you have to do?Ours was ration-related work like public dealing, ration, fixing Aadhaar information related problems and such other workHow do you see your own involvement in the scam ?We are admitting our guilt to the extent that yes, we worked in a government office. We were unemployed and did whatever the senior officials ordered us to do. The authorities directed us and explained how this works and got us to implement it. We did not know how this works. Without the authorities such a big scam cannot take place. The authorities had explained the mechanism to us, provided us with ID and password and got us to do all this work and everything was happening on their orders. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.