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Friday, 04 November 2011 00:00
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Core ration solutions

It sounds futuristic, but the face of PDS is changing

 

On the face of things, modernising a network of over 4.6 lakh ration shops which deal with 180 million families each year seems far-fetched, more so when you consider the high levels of corruption and the obvious political patronage that has seen, in several states, more BPL ration cards being issued than there are people. The fact that the UIDAI project seems to be running into several obstacles also suggests India’s political class is not yet ready to accept cash transfers or IT solutions that seek to lower the huge leakages in the government’s social spending. Yet that is precisely what the Nandan Nilekani-headed Task Force on an IT strategy for PDS hopes to be able to do. What is interesting, however, is the level of progress that some states have made on modernising the ration shop network. The Task Force’s job is then to create a common all-India platform—a Public Distribution System Network and a Supply Chain Management System—that states can become part of and to ensure the system is robust enough to accommodate the needs of different states.

Take the first phase of the project, what the Task Force calls ‘information visibility’. Chhattisgarh has created a unified ration card database, has barcoded ration cards, 108 warehouses and 120 distribution centres are computerised and data entered on stocks/sales at even the shop-level are accessible to everyone on the Internet; e-mail/SMS alerts are sent out regularly and a Centralised Online Realtime PDS is to be launched in 175 ration shops in Raipur, which will allow users to get rations from any of these 175 shops in much the same way that customers in banks with core banking solutions can deposit/withdraw cash at any bank branch. Gujarat has 89,000 barcoded ration cards, Tamil Nadu also has information on the Internet and trucks carrying supplies are fitted with GPS. All of this is puny compared to what’s needed, but what’s important is that there’s enough proof-of-concept out there for the Task Force to build upon.

Will UIDAI help reduce pilferage? As the Task Force admits, it depends upon the states—a common way of pilferage involves fake ration cards, so it is up to the states to decide if they want to link Aadhar numbers to each ration card; in the same way, it is up to the states/Centre to decide if they want to make cash transfers directly to beneficiaries. But what UIDAI is promising is that it will set up the architecture to make it possible, that it will do pilots in willing states by December 2012 to show that the system works. Whether the states choose to take it up, or whether the UPA decides to link adopting Aadhar to central transfers are open questions. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the UIDAI is really UPA-2’s only flaghship programme.

 

 

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