Smart Ration Card Scheme: Disbanding the Age Old Practices in Public Interest

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Smart Ration Card Scheme Disbanding the Age Old Practices in Public Interest

The measures taken by Punjab were recommended by the High Level Committee (HLC) set up by the Government of India on August 20, 2017 under the chairmanship of Shanta Kumar regarding re-structuring of FCI, writes Simarjot Kaur, Additional Director, Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Punjab.

NFSA and its correlation to SDG

For the fulfillment of UN SDG 2 related to ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition by 2030 for all the people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations throughout the year, the State of Punjab aims to ensure supply and distribution of essential commodities to all the sections of the society through an improved Public Distribution System (PDS) with end-to-end computerisation of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).

The conventional PDS system versus our cost-effective right to food

As passed by Parliament, Government of India had notified the National Food Security Act, 2013 on September 10, 2013 with the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.

The Act provides for coverage of up to 75 percent of the rural population and upto 50 percent of the urban population for receiving subsidised foodgrains under TPDS, thus covering about two-thirds of the population. In Punjab, 54.79 percent of the rural and 44.83 percent of the urban population, a total 141.45 lakh persons out of the total population of 277.04 lakhs are covered under the NFSA 2013.

The eligible persons are entitled to receive 5 kgs of foodgrains per person per month at subsidised prices of Rs 3/2/1 per kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains. The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, which constitute the poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35 kgs of foodgrains per household per month. Prior to the implementation of the NFSA 2013, under the conventional PDS system, the quality of the grains was getting compromised in the tedious and manual process of procurement, transportation, storage and distribution. This led to a huge wastage of funds and corruption scandals. Under the conventional system, wheat was distributed manually and there was no track of the bogus beneficiaries or ensuring that the genuine and deserving beneficiaries have received their entitled quota of subsidised foodgrains.

The conventional system of supply chain management starting with procurement from farmers to distribution of grains to end beneficiary needed a complete overhaul. It was a high time to restructure the PDS system. Punjab treated the implementation of NFSA, 2013 as an opportunity to revamp the conventional PDS system to make it leakage free and transparent and ensure that all the deserving and genuine beneficiaries get their entitled quota of subsidised foodgrains in right quantity and quality.

Keeping in mind the empowerment of the consumers/ beneficiaries, the State Government had decided to distribute six months quota of subsidised foodgrains in HDPE/PP consumer bags weighing 30 kgs twice a year. This endeavour was undertaken to ensure:

  • Distribution of wheat in standard/ sealed packs of 30 kgs
  • Distribution of wheat of right quality and quantity
  • Leakage/diversion free distribution of foodgrains
  • Easy portability for consumers/ beneficiaries
  • Consumer convenience by curtailing monthly visits to the Fair Price Shop
  • Six months quota of wheat is being distributed in the presence of Government official and a member/s of Vigilance Committee, as mandated by the Government of India. This ensures that the beneficiaries get their due wheat in standardized manner and any leakage/diversion is checked.

Prior to the implementation of NFSA 2013, the beneficiaries were distributed old wheat stocks on FIFO principle. In order to ensure that the beneficiaries under NFSA 2013 get only fresh and FAQ wheat stocks, the State Government decided to be a DCP State for the quantity equivalent to the State’s annual allocation under NFSA 2013. Special permission was obtained from the Government of India for biannual distribution of subsidised foodgrains in 30 kg bags.

Major steps involved for complete transformation of PDS operations include:

  1. Under NFSA 2013, Department of Food and Civil Supplies, Punjab initiated digitising the beneficiary’s database. Details of all the beneficiaries were uploaded on ePDS application developed by the Department and the same was seeded with the Aadhaar numbers of the beneficiaries. All the identified beneficiaries under NFSA 2013 were distributed bar-coded UID compliant e-ration cards, in order to ensure that there are no bogus beneficiaries and only genuine/deserving beneficiaries get subsidised ration.
  2. The distribution of subsidised ration under NFSA 2013 was started on the basis of digitised database of the ration card holders (e-registers). Moving ahead for implementation of end-to-end computerisation of PDS operations and to bring transparency in PDS, the department associated NIC for various modules/applications, which are:
  • eRCMS (Ration Card Management System) application developed by NIC HQ was adopted and complete beneficiary database was ported from previous ePDS application.
  • FEAST (Food & Essential Commodities Assurance & Security Target) application developed by NIC HQ was rolled-out for implementation of supply chain management which also helps in tracking foodgrains movement from state godowns to fair price shops.
  • Distribution of foodgrains to end beneficiaries was done using ePOS application developed by NIC Aandhra team which facilitated Aadhaar based bio-metric

The measures taken by Punjab were recommended by the High Level Committee (HLC) set up by the Government of India on August 20, 2017 under the chairmanship of Shanta Kumar regarding re-structuring of FCI. The HLC had also recommended in its report that targeted beneficiaries under NFSA or TPDS are given six months ration immediately after the procurement season ends. This will save the consumers from various hassles of monthly arrivals at FPS and also save on the storage costs of agencies.

Further, under the end-to-end computerisation scheme of TPDS operations scheme of GOI, the State of Punjab has worked upon a revolutionary model as an ‘end to end solution’, which addresses all the anomalies in the conventional PDS system at almost all the essential steps involved in the process. The new model is highly transparent in which the ration is getting distributed using biometric authentication through ePOS devices with Inspector centric approach as one Inspector caters to multiple FPS. This has greatly reduced the role of mediators and has reduced the chances of diversions, pilferages and corruption.

This has helped to greatly strengthen the role of department through its direct intervention and supervision at almost every step. This has almost nullified the age old discretionary role of fair price shop holders. Transportation charges would be calculated automatically by taking the co-ordinates of the storage & distribution point.

Due to the bi-annual distribution of subsidised foodgrains under NFSA 2013, the State Government has also been able to save the expenditure on PoS devices. Instead of procuring/ providing a PoS device for each of the 17,000 Fair Price Shops in the State, Punjab is able to distribute ration across the State with only 1,600 PoS devices. The inspectors of the Department, who are supposed to distribute the subsidised ration under their supervision, carry the PoS device to the place of distribution for authenticating each transaction through bio-metric identification of the beneficiary. By following above model, the State was able to save approx Rs 32.80 crores annually.

Also, Punjab has taken the ePoS devices on rent instead of purchasing these devices. The rationale behind this was that in case of technology up-gradation with time in service delivery under PDS, the State will be able to upgrade its existing system to the needs of the changing times easily. For the purpose of procurement of ePoS devices for PDS functioning, the State Government (after due permission from the cabinet) had negotiated with the following PSUs of Government of India for FPS automation:

  • Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL)
  • Broadcasting Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (BECIL)
  • Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL)

After a thorough evaluation of the performance/terms and conditions of these PSUs, the Department has placed order with BECIL for providing the ePoS devices along with the iris and the weighing machines for FPS automation. In case of failure of bio-metric identification of the beneficiary due to some technical or other reason, a provision has been made for iris scan of the beneficiary. Additionally, for complete bio-metric failure cases, a mechanism has been devised and implemented by the Department wherein inspector acts as a virtual nominee in such cases. Also, electronic weighing scales are being used at the time of distribution in order to doubly ensure the quantity of foodgrains being distributed to the beneficiaries and all the transactions are recorded digitally.

Online distribution of foodgrains was started from the distribution cycle April 2018- Sept 2018 onwards. Following is the summary of last distribution cycle, i.e. October 2018 – March 2019.

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