Using Aadhaar to streamline PDS in Andhra Pradesh

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Harpreet Singh
Secretary, Civil Supplies, Government of
Andhra Pradesh

“The Andhra Pradesh Government has identified Aadhaar as a suitable platform for plugging the loopholes in the PDS system,” says Harpreet Singh, Secretary, Civil Supplies, Government of Andhra Pradesh, in conversation with Nayana Singh

What is your vision for Civil Supplies Department in Andhra Pradesh?
We have a very large database of beneficiaries; 2.2 crore ration card holders covering 80 percent population of the state come under PDS. The state government is giving subsidy of `3,000 crore. This is in addition to subsidy given by the central government. The Civil Supplies Department is taking many steps for removing ghost and duplicates. Verification camps and other measures are being taken. We have identified Aadhaar as a suitable platform for managing PDS. It is a matter of pride for us that Andhra Pradesh is number one in the country in Aadhaar enrolment.Out of a population of about eight crore, we have already covered five crore. The enrolment drive is ongoing, and we plan to cover the balance population by the end of December or by early January.

Can you elaborate on the ways by which Aadhaar will lead to better systems in the Civil Supplies Department?
The best thing about Aadhaar is that it gives you access to the biometric data of people. We already have the ration card database, which an be seamlessly linked to the Aadhaar database. So the new ration cards that will be issued will have the unique Aadhaar numbers in them. This exercise is called seeding and it is currently underway. Seeding is being done inorganically and organically. In case of inorganic seeding, at the time of enrolment the beneficiary can be asked for ration cards. In organic seeding, people furnish Aadhaar number for getting their ration cards made.

How does the Aadhaar database bring about an improvement in the level of interaction that is happening between the ration card holders and the PDS shops?
When the customer comes to ration shops, he gives his fingerprint and ration card number. His identity is authenticated and transaction is done. This is called authentication enabled service and it is being made available to everyone in the state.

In the management of food grains, a lot of deficiency is visible. Often large amounts of grains can be seen rotting in rain. What is your achievement in the management of food grains?
Right now we are doing what is called end-to-end computerisation, from farmers to the card holders. Once the end-to-end computerisation is completed, losses, if any, can be quantified and fixed. We had very large number of card holders and the demand for new cards is on the rise. Under these circumstances, we have to focus on managing the cards first of all. Now we have come to the next stage of shops where authentication based sale service is being delivered. Next service is godown. Once godowns have been computerised, we will come to procurement centres and farmers.

What steps is the state government taking to ensure that farmers get optimum price for grains?
The Government of India has set Minimum Support Price (MSP) facility. No one can buy grains from farmers at prices lower than MSP. In Andhra Pradesh millers were also procuring grains from farmers traditionally, but for the last two years, the agency of the Civil Supply Corporation of the state government has also been buying paddy from farmers. This happens because we found that the millers were facing problem in procuring paddy from farmers due to slump in the market. Therefore we stepped into buying the paddy directly. About eight months back the centre allowed the export of rice, so millers have again come in the market in a big way and are buying the paddy at above the MSP. In situation where there is bumper crop, the price tends to fall, and the MSP pressure is there, leading to a situation where intervention of state agency becomes very important to support the price and we have to buy the crop in large quantity.

Tell us about your Deepam Scheme for the distribution of LPG?
This is also a government scheme. It is more than 10 years old. It is a scheme to encourage the people of poor households towards the safe cooking gas and to discourage for use of bonfire. The cost is borne by the state government. Suppose the oil company has to issue 15 lakh connections in a year, about 5 lakh connections will go to Deepam people. The cost of the connection will be remitted to the oil company directly. This is very popular scheme among the rural people and rural women and its demand is very high in the state.

What challenges are you facing in equitable storage and distribution of food grains? What are you doing to tackle these challenges?
The major challenge in handling of food grains is related to the inadequate storage capacity, particularly in a bumper year. Due to non-availability of adequate storage capacity, the food grains tend to rot. To tackle this challenge, we have tried to increase the storage capacity in our basic godowns, which are at mandal level points. Earlier we used to stock food grains for about one month, but now we have increased the stock for four months. For four months stock, we will have to have a storage capacity of almost 15 lakh tonnes of food grains. Thus we have to enhance the storage capacity for at least 10 lakh tonnes of grains at mandal level points.

At times the Fair Price Shops face a problem as they are earning very low margins. How do we rectify this problem?
The low margin that the fair price shopkeepers make is indeed a challenge. If a person runs fair price shop and if that is the only medium for his survival, then margin can’t allow him to run his family. It is not viable. We have to think of new ways of converting these shops into general goods shops. The shops must be upgraded so that the shop owners can sustain themselves.

What are the key challenges that you are facing in the distribution of food and supplies? What are the ways by which Aadhaar is leading to more transparency in distribution?
In Aadhaar, which is an online authentication service, connectivity is a big challenge. This problem especially crops up in shops located in remote areas. When we talk to the operators, they say that in 75 percent shops there is no problem, but in rest of the shops the connectivity is not good enough. We need to have broadband or antenna based systems for managing the connectivity work of these shops. We are already looking into the matter, and it will be done soon.

Aadhaar based delivery systems have been linked with a lot of digital devices in the country. How will you integrate these devices for yielding the proper result?
I can answer this question with an example. I was Secretary of AP Public Service Commission. When we started the online process for recruitments, we were worried that this would not yield proper results, but later on we realised that this was not a problem. We found that the candidates in each and every area of the state were eager to apply online. The penetration of the Internet and mobile apps is so extensive  hat online system is not a problem. Of course, some pockets in the country pose a lot of problems regarding connectivity, but we are sure  hat this problem will get resolved. The operators will reach that area too, whenever the demand goes high.

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