Leveraging Technology to Strengthen PDS in Rajasthan

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Subodh Agarwal, Principal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies Department, Government of Rajasthan

More than 25,000 fair price shops have been automated in Rajasthan by installing Point of Sale (PoS) devices to strengthen the Public Distribution System (PDS), says Subodh Agarwal, Principal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies Department, Government of Rajasthan in conversation with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN). Excerpts:

Please elaborate on the innovations introduced in the Food and Civil Supplies Department of Rajasthan.

We have introduced various innovations in the department. First is related to revamping of Public Distribution System (PDS) which is designed to provide ration to the poor beneficiaries and has faced allegations of systemic corruption, diversion and leakages on regular intervals. It was a challenge to reform PDS to ensure ration delivery to target groups in a transparent manner and eliminate diversion and delays in allocation and distribution of PDS items. We were able to revamp PDS through an End to End Computerisation (E2EC) scheme and till date, more than 25,000 fair price shops have been automated in the state by installing Point of Sale (PoS) devices to distribute PDS commodities after biometric verification.

The second innovation is related to the Annapurna Bhandar Yojna, a unique Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. In this model, PDS is being modernised by providing better quality multi-brand consumer goods at competitive prices to the general public through fair price shops. These stores are working as rural malls for the villagers and the state is ensuring that around 150 products under 45 different categories of quality brands are made available to rural empowers residents at these stores. It not only enables people to purchase quality consumer items at reasonable price but also enhances the trust of rural masses on PDS of the state.

Rajasthan government has launched “Annapurna Bhandar Yojna” to modernise its Public Distribution System. Please tell about the schemes and its benefits?

As we know, quality consumable goods are not easily available in the remote areas. Keeping in mind, the interest of consumers in the state, Government of Rajasthan has launched this scheme. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was the key motivator for this scheme. There is an interesting story behind it. In one of the “Sarkar Aap Ke Dwar” programmes in Tamatia village, located in the interior tribal area of Dungarpur district of Rajasthan, Raje came across an Large Aadim Jati Multipurpose Cooperative Societies (LAMPS) run Fair Price Shops (FPS) which besides selling the subsidised items under the PDS was also selling FMCG products, fertilisers, seeds, cement and other consumer items. This not only helped consumers in interior areas but was also a source of additional income for the cooperative organisation. Looking at the success of this model, the chief minister conceptualised revamping of dilapidated fair price shops into modern retail Annapurna Bhandars.

First Annapurna Bhandar was launched by the Rajasthan Chief Minister on 31st October, 2015 in Bhambhori village of Jaipur district. Till date, more than 5,000 stores have been opened in various parts of the state. Under this scheme, ration dealers are being trained in retail management and latest management practices by the Future Consumer Enterprise Limited, a Future Group company (private partner selected through open transparent tender process).

This PPP model has created a win-win situation for all the stakeholders – public, fair price shop dealers, government and private partner. This scheme has sorted out the problem of dubious goods available in small town shops and has generated additional income for the fair price shop dealers as well as employment for their family members. The FPS dealers are now being recognised as entrepreneurs. Also, scheme has rebuild people’s faith in government interventions.

Directives have been issued that without Point of Sale (PoS) machine, no ration will be distributed to the National Food Safety Act (NFSA) beneficiaries. How do you ensure its enforcement?

The Rajasthan Government is committed to providing PDS items to the targetted beneficiaries in a transparent manner. To ensure that the benefits are provided to authorised beneficiaries, bio-metric authentication has been enforced at the last level of disbursement, i.e. fair price shops, in compliance with the Budget declaration no. 189 (2015-16) of the Chief Minister. The basic infrastructure being used to enable such localised and targetted service delivery is PoS device.

Almost all the fair price shops in the state have operational PoS devices except 135 locations which are still not connected with the internet facility.

“We are working towards 100% transparent and interactive PDS system through PoS devices, continuously removing the bogus and ineligible and including the needy and eligible families.”

What challenges have you faced in implementing IT/digital initiatives on such a large scale? How do you combat connectivity issues?

Rajasthan is the largest state in terms of area and a large part of it is covered by Thar Desert and Aravali Hills. There are more than 25,000 fair price shops in the State. The major challenges before the department were poor internet connectivity, lack of digital literacy, inadequate Aadhaar coverage, resistance of fair price shop dealers, among others.

We were able to overcome all these issues due to strong political will of our Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. To address the issue of inadequate internet connectivity, FPS dealers were provided an option to choose SIM of any service provider (BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, etc.) having better connectivity in that particular area. Installation of Point of Sale (PoS) machines was done in a phased manner and several camps were organised to train the FPS dealers about functioning of PoS devices. Special camps were organised for Aadhaar enrollment especially in areas having lower Aadhaar coverage.

The Government of India suggested that installation of PoS devices has to be implemented on a model based on outsourcing, wherein FPS owner shall buy, on and operate the PoS device. It was felt that it is not economically feasible for all the FPS dealers to go in the open market and buy the PoS machines.

Do you have any mechanism to keep a vigil on the duplicate or bogus ration cards and monitor the real-time progress of the scheme?

Yes, we have an effective mechanism to keep a watch on the duplicate and bogus ration cards. Digitised ration cards are being prepared through e-Mitra centres across the state since 2015. When an applicant approaches to e-Mitra kiosk for a new ration card and operator enters the family details of the applicant, system displays all the similar probable duplicate ration cards already issued. At this stage if e-Mitra kiosk holder finds that applied ration card have already been issued earlier, he or she may refuse for issuing a new ration card to the applicant. If operator finds that applicant’s details are different from all probable existing duplicate ration cards, only then new ration card application will be forwarded to the authorised officers along with remarks. Authorised officer may also cross check the ration card de-duplication.

We also monitor real-time progress of deletion of duplicate and bogus ration cards. At any point of time, a list of probable duplicate ration cards may be generated. Till date, approximately 13 lakh duplicate or bogus ration cards have been deleted.

Which new projects are you planning to launch in future.

Under End to End Computerisation Scheme, to track the movement of PDS commodities, we are working on computerisation of supply chain management. It covers godowns, wholesalers, fair price shops and field functionaries like DSOs, EOs, EIs etc. Allocation order generation, release order generation and inventory management will also made online under ePDS.

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