Interview

Digitisation for Better Food Supplies

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S Jagannathan

S Jagannathan
Commissioner of Civil
Supplies, Kerala

Using end-to-end computerisation can help transform the way a department works by providing efficient work flow system. S Jagannathan tells in an interaction with Nayana Singh and Kartik Sharma of ENN.

What are the operations undertaken by your department ?

The Civil Supplies Department looks after two major issues; one is the administration of the public distribution system, which largely ensures that food grain is made available at subsidised rates based on categorisation of the beneficiaries.
Our second major function is to look after the entire umbrella of activities under the Consumer Protection Act 1986 and ensure consumer empowerment throughout the state.

What various IT initiatives have you implemented in-order to smoothen your work?

When it comes to IT initiatives, I would start with the Public Distribution System (PDS), in which the beneficiary list is close to around 82.5 lakh households and the entire list has been digitised. We have digitally bar-coded laminated ration cards and the entire thing is live on the Ration Card Management System. So, one can apply for a ration card in Kerala on the internet.
Under the Right to Services Act, Kerala is the only state which has ensured that once applied for ration card, the respective individual will be handed over his ration card within 24 official working hours.
For consumer empowerment, we have the state level Consumer Dispute Redressal Council and at the district level Consumer Dispute Resolution Forums. The progress of all the grievances posted and the final orders on those cases are put on an online system that is assisted by the National Informatics Centre, i.e., the CONFONET.
Also, there are SMS alerts that help track grain movements from the Food Corporation of India to the storage point of wholesale dealers, the alerts also indicate the truck number and grain quantity. The alerts are available to anybody who logs in and registers himself for the e-Services on the website.

“Under the Right to Services Act, Kerala is the only state which has ensured that once applied for ration card, the respective individual will be handed over his ration card within 24 official working hours.”

Are you planning to adopt IT initiatives into your services?

We have undertaken an end-to-end computerisation project, the half of which is supported by the Government of India. The government has certain jurisdictional areas where it works. The commercial taxes area for instance is an area which is a revenue earning area for the government, and it comes under its jurisdiction.
Computerisation of the tax collection system is easy as the number of stakeholders is much lower and the number of registered dealers having a turnover of Rs 10 lakh will definitely be lesser than the state population. Since there is a statutory system backing, directions on filing returns in a particular manner can also be given. Tools such as—business intelligence software, drill down software or comparative software which can index your team with the pan of the registered dealers and find out wherever tax evasion is happening—can always be added.
In the PDS, the stakeholder is almost everyone in the state government. For instance, in Kerala the entire state population exceeds three crores and we have to reach out to everybody. Giving them ration cards would give access to all the details which would be stored into a database.
Mobile technology is moving ahead in terms of penetration and now it has become very much easier to reach out to any stakeholder. Then, you also have the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which our Honourable Prime Minister uses to keep the citizens informed and involved.
The issue of real time tracking of the food grain can also be tackled using the end-to-end computerisation system. The department, through biometric validation, can ascertain whether the food grain is reaching out to the right person. The SMS alerts will be sent on a timely basis.
There are 69 Taluk Supply Offices (TSOs) but one cannot register on all the 69 as it is not a realistic manner of evaluation. For this purpose, we have Decision Support System, which is spatially geo-indexed. For instance, a person who is non-departmental, will log on to the website wherein through the Decision Support System he would be able to clarify the queries regarding food grain allocation to districts, talukas, farkas and retail shops through a colour coded map.

“In Kerala, one major issue is the storage space and the other is the cost of labour which is exorbitantly high compared to other states of India. In order to counter the challenges, we use geo-spatially indexed logistic management system to check out the lowest cost to deliver the food grains to ration shops”

Similarly, you can also query for the price indexes. We monitor the prices of around 27 commodities on a regular basis. If there is gross variation, the Decision Support System will highlight it in red colour and thus we can ascertain the problem areas. To tackle this problem, we immediately ensure more availability of that commodity in those retail outlets through a Dynamic Stock Management Mechanism.
In Kerala, one major issue is the storage space and the other is the cost of labour which is exorbitantly high compared to other states of India. As per the National Food Security Act, we are also supposed to do door-to-door delivery. In order to counter the challenges, we use geospatially indexed logistic management system to check out the lowest cost to deliver the food grains to ration shops.
To conclude, we will need a secondary validation module which is also an offline module, so that even when there is no connectivity you can still validate without the biometrics. The second thing is probably a smart card. Smart card is a better option but UIDAI has got a policy where they will never share biometric data with any other external agency. It’s a very substantial exercise and it is expensive, because I need to capture the biometrics, I need to invest in that, create this infrastructure in every Taluka to issue the smart card.
It is a complex project and we always miss out on the human element. At present, the commission that we pay to Authorised Ration Dealer (ARD) is Rs 60/quintal of grain handled. If you compute, it all ration shops should actually be making loss based on this present commission. Then how come they are still functioning? It is a non-said agreement where certain amount of food grain is definitely being diverted from the PDS and they are making ends meet. So that kind of a diversion is actually a leakage, it’s a leakage of subsidy and it needs to be plugged.
To plug you can use technology but by purely inserting technology you are rendering these people economically unviable; so the viability thresholds have to be identified and the commissions have to be revised accordingly.

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