The current COVID-19 outbreak has brought the Centre and the State Governments on toes to take immediate preventive measures, scale up the capacity of healthcare facilities, cater to the demand of the people, ensure seamless & uninterrupted supplies of essential commodities and more. However, due to the vast geographic spread of the country from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, each state has their own challenges when it comes to supply chain management, doorstep delivery of essentials, storage of foodgrains, logistics of essential commodities and monitoring of people’s movement to ensure that lockdown norms are being adhered to.
Himachal Pradesh is a hilly state measuring 55,000 Sq Km of area. The hilly terrain of the state poses a major challenge for the transportation of essential commodities from one part of the state to the other, resulting in cost escalation. But the state is committed to providing the supply of essential commodities to cater to its population of 70 lakh. Describing efforts by the State authorities, Manasi Sahay Thakur, IAS, Managing Director, Himachal Pradesh State Civil Supplies Corporation (HPSCSC) joins in a webinar hosted by Dr Ravi Gupta, Founder and CEO, Elets Technomedia.
Manasi started off with a brief on HPSCSC saying, “HPSCSC is the central procurement agency of Himachal Pradesh, which was set up in 1980. Over time, it was mandated with the distribution of food & ration through fair price shops (FPS), which are distributed uniformly in every nook and corner of the state. Later on, LPG, cement, medicines, edible oils, etc. were added to its product basket.”
Responsibility in the current COVID-19 outbreak
Addressing the webinar theme, Manasi said, “During this current pandemic, we have the obligation to ensure that essential supplies are delivered in a seamless & uninterrupted manner thought the state. In addition, we are supposed to implement the advance ration scheme as announced by the Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) . Himachal has more than 18.5 lakh ration cardholders covering 70 lakh households and authorities are walking an extra mile to supply ration and essentials to all, she added.
Being a hilly state, Himachal is not agricultural centric state and is dependent upon other states for its regular supplies. The procurement span of the state is spread far and wide from Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat,Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi etc. Acknowledging the fact, Mansi added that the long and complicated supply chain is one of the biggest challenges in the state. “Our procurements and packaging are spread across several states. After the lockdown, we have been facing big challenges in procurement and transportation such as shortage of labour, truckers, inter-state transportation, issue of permits, offloading and shortage of staff. Also, there are issues of stranded trucks en route”, she said
Detailing on the logistical issues, Manasi told to the webinar attendees, “Despite clear instructions from MHA, actual movement at the field level is requiring a lot of personal interventions. For example, a consignment of Urad Dal which is lifted from Andhra Pradesh and packaged at Delhi takes a week’s time is normal days, , the same has taken over a month in the present crisis. No one had envisaged the complexities of the lockdown. We are all learning from experience.” Earlier, the packaging material was not included in the list of essentials and this led to a disruption in the supply of edible oils. However, the Government of India proactively considered the issue and rectified the same immediately after it was raised by the state, she added.
Planning for the contingency
Throwing light on the preparedness for the coming months considering the lockdowns, Manasi said that supplies first reach the 117 godowns, which feed approximately 4,980 Fair Price Shops (FPS). Usually, the supplies for a month is procured and stocked but in this time of crisis, as a contingency measure, the state is keeping stock for 1.5-2 months by making advance demand placements. “For storing more food grains than the usual, more storage space is also required. However, we have been able to augment our storage capacity from the existing 61,000 metric tonnes to 91,000 metric tonnes by identifying some additional places”, Manasi highlighted.
Manasi, mentioning the present status of Himachal Pradesh, said, “I am happy to say that we are comfortably placed in ensuring supplies throughout the state. All the FPS have uplifted their quota of this month and will soon be receiving next month’s quota as well. Thus we are striving hard to maintain the supply chain despite all the challenges.”
Issue of black marketing & overpricing
When asked about the issues of black-marketing and overpricing, Manasi said that Directorate of Food & Civil Supplies is responsible for curbing the practice of black marketing and overpricing. “Thus this issue is beyond our mandate, although we have a well developed MIS, as all the sales happen through POS. Thus all the data flows back. There are checks & balances. We have a toll free number where consumers can lodge their complaints if required.”
Use of IT in HPSCSC
When asked on the use of Information Technology (IT) in the HPSCSC, Manasi said, “We have a detailed MIS system . Entire corporation’s operations are computerized from the moment stocks arrive at the godowns to their distribution to FPS. Similarly, sales figures are also captured in the MIS. These reports, which are prepared godown wise & district wise, help us to place our demand for the next cycle.”
Apart from keeping sales and accounts in check, the HPSCSC is also using IT for tracking vehicles carrying essential supplies through a Vehicle Tracking System. Moreover, the LPG agencies and medicines are also on an MIS module and a dedicated IT team is there for operations, she added.
Acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of HPSCSC staff, Manasi termed them Corona Warriors. She said, “Our employees who collaborate with labourers, our field managers, godown in-charges, the IT team are the Corona Heroes who are discharging their duties in challenging circumstances. Their safety and security is the topmost priority for us. We have a standard safety protocol which we follow diligently. We ensure adequate availability of sanitisers, masks and protective gears. We regularly sanitise our godowns and sanitise the trucks. We ensure that the morale and safety of our workers is not compromised.”
Winding up the webinar she said, Himachal Pradesh is in control considering the Coronavirus outbreak. “We have enough supplies to cater to people’s needs, we are also ensuring the safety of the staff members and the workers who are working on the field and most importantly we have the support from people who are abiding with the lockdown norms and practising social distancing, hence, avoiding the viral spread”, she added.