The cabinet has approved a Rs. 4,500-crore plan to overhaul the public distribution system (PDS), through which grains meant for the poor are often stolen by intermediaries because of dodgy records.
The big fix is already in progress and Thursday’s approval will hasten the process by allocating dedicated funds.
The government distributes cheap food grains among the poor through a pilferage-prone network of 500,000 “fair-priced shops”. The Rs. 75,000 crore-a-year exercise is easy to fudge: stocks often move only on paper, not on trucks, and grains would go to feed ghost consumers.
Yet, it's a tight race against time. The system needs to be plugged and tested before the food security law can take off.
Stopping the PDS plunder required just a look at what large-format stores do to keep a tab on stocks: bar-coded inventories, electronic registers, GPS-tracked shipments and digital delivery records.
The plan is to have end-to-end computerisation of the PDS, which includes fair price shop automation, computerisation of the supply chain, digitisation of the ration card database, mobile phone alerts, and setting up of a transparency portal and toll-free phone numbers for complaints. Governments will also have to link the process with Aadhaar or unique citizen identity numbers.