Public distribution system (PDS) in India needs a revamp. A number of models are available, but the most attractive is the one in Chhattisgarh. Vikas Sheel, secretary, department of food, civil supplies & consumer protection, Government of Chhattisgarh, spoke to HT and elucidated on innovation in PDS in the state. Excerpts:
Can you highlight the problems, the solution and results achieved by the state in PDS?
Until 2004, PDS in Chhattisgarh faced problems to those faced by other states today. Like limited reach, there was delay in monthly allocation; delay in lifting and transportation, large-scale diversion/leakages, fake ration cards, lack of accountability at all levels. Importantly there was lack of community participation. Therefore, we went back to the drawing board and created a new system that has set a new benchmark.
Can you identify the major measures taken?
Our efforts to reform PDS faced a lot of opposition. When new PDS Control Order was issued in December 2004, the government cancelled 2872 privately run fair price shops (FPS). We were slapped with 400 petitions in the high court, but we won the case in September 2005. Immediately we initiated a few more structural reforms and procedural reforms, like door step delivery, organisation of "Chawal Utsav" at every FPS in the state on the seventh day of the month, increasing the commission for shops on sales of PDS commodities, computerisation of supply chain and digitisation of ration cards. "Chawal Utsavs" were the game changer. It not only helped in planning and monitoring the timely and complete supply of commodities to shops but also restored the lost credibility of PDS in the minds of the people.
However, there is a major issue of storage and transportation; have the states been struggling to find a solution?
State government constructed nearly 4,000 shop-cum-godown buildings (35 tonnes capacity) with special focus on tribal and deficit areas where 74 godowns of 2,04,000 MT capacity were constructed by State Warehouse Corporation. We also started ensuring doorstep delivery of commodities to almost all the FPS, at no extra cost to the FPS, by fifth of every month. We have eliminated multiple agencies in lifting and transportation of commodities. Once the commodity reached the village, chances of its pilferage are drastically reduced.
But what about making the FPS financially viable?
To begin with, the commission on FPS food grains has been revised from R8 per quintal to Rs 45 per quintal (state bears an extra burden of Rs 60 crore, per year). We also provide one-month stock on credit to all FPS. FPS are also allowed to sell non-PDS commodities. The average monthly margin of an FPS with 500 cards, has increased from Rs 700 to Rs 6,000 per month.
But records could have been fudged?
This was an issue, but we resolved it using information technology. We have created a unified ration card database and automated allotment system. The submission of FPS monthly sales declaration has been made mandatory.
All sales declarations are entered in the database at a central server through a web-based application. A web-based application at distribution centres ensures that truck dispatch information is closely monitored. All trucks that carry PDS material are painted yellow. A call centre was started in 2007 for grievance redressal of FPS beneficiaries. Also a "Jan Bhagidari" portal was developed and information related to stocks has been made available in public domain. The portal also enables citizens to track supplies and availability with SMS alerts. To make the district administration more responsive, the performance of District
Collectors and Food Officers is also assessed on the basis of their performance in PDS.