Need for technology intervention in PDS
Dr. Satyavan Saurabh
The Public Distribution System (PDS) evolved as a system of distribution and management of food grains at affordable prices. We see that over the years, PDS has become an important part of the government’s policy to manage the food economy in the country. It works towards distributing basic food and non-food items to the needy sections of society at very cheap prices. Some of the major commodities distributed by the Public Distribution System are wheat, rice, pulses, etc.
From time to time, technology-based reforms made by the government in the area of public distribution of food have been included, at present, it is again in a discussion about the door-to-door distribution of ration by the Chief Minister of Delhi. To speed up the automation of fair price shops, the Department of Food and Public Distribution laid down guidelines and specifications for use of POS on FPS. Currently 2,04,162 FPS out of 5,26,377 have POS. This reduces the delivery time and also avoids malpractices. Also, it leads to better tracking of inventory.
Under Direct Benefit Transfer (cash), the food subsidy is directly deposited into the account of the beneficiaries. This has led to a reduction in corruption and widespread distribution. Moreover, it has reduced the role of middlemen and empowered the citizens. In PDS to remove duplicate/ineligible/fake ration cards through Aadhaar seeding and 77.56 percent i.e. about 17.99 crore ration cards have been linked with Aadhaar with the right target. From which financial resources can be diverted towards other social schemes. To bring all the functions of FCI godowns online through Depot Online System and to check leakages and automate the operations at the depot level, a “Depot Online” system was introduced.
Ration cards are being replaced with smart cards which can track the food distributed through the PDS system. This leads to the digitization of the entire distribution process, ensuring digital records. GPS tracking which was initially started by the Government of Chhattisgarh which has been adopted by many states. This can avoid the diversion of food grains from the beneficiaries.
One Nation One Ration Card system is a significant citizen-centric reform. Its implementation ensures the availability of ration under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes, especially to migrant workers and their families at any Fair Price Shop (FPS) across the country.
There are also more possibilities of revolution in the Public Distribution System such as the Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) scheme. The main objective of the scheme is to integrate the existing PDS system/ portal of the States/ UTs with the Central System/ Portal, across the country. To introduce national portability of ration cardholders to lift food grains from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) and also national level de-duplication of ration cards/beneficiaries.
End-to-end technology solution for digitization of Public Distribution System prevents the possibilities of corruption through digitization; The mobile platform provides an opportunity to the government to provide incentives to fair price shop owners to use flexible systems for conducting additional operations. The social audit can be done by using technology to weed out tax beneficiaries and help those in need. This can be done with interviews via the Internet and inspections at sites using CCTV cameras.
Card System, Machine Readable Cards, Biometric Cards, Visual Crypto Cards (Grid Cards), Iris Technology. These can be used for further authentication to help the beneficiaries. Ration card management, supply-chain management, transparency, and grievance redressal, computerization can be covered using ICT. Food Corporations of India (FCIs), Central Warehousing Corporations (CWCs), and State Warehousing Corporations (SWCs) can use information technology from the time of procurement of food grains to its distribution, which will help in increasing the overall efficiency of the whole.
The public distribution system is an essential way to provide food grains to the needy and ensure fair remuneration to the farmers. Thus technological advancement is necessary to weed out bogus beneficiaries and avoid an economic loss to the state and reach all the intended beneficiaries. But the focus on technology should not neglect eligible beneficiaries due to lack of digital and technical literacy.
The writer is a Research scholar, poet, freelance journalist, and columnist, All India Radio & TV Panelist.