Chhattisgarh presents a unique case of the information and communications technology enabled Universal Public Distribution System (UPDS) that ensures ‘food for all’ and contributes to the various aspects of food security such as availability, access, use, stability and agency. The technological solutions to food security programs in Chhattisgarh are workable and relevant and subject to the political logic of the context.
The coexistence of the National Food Security Act 2003 (NFSA) and the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act 2012 has made PDS coverage universal in the state. The lessons we are learning from the Chhattisgarh Food for All model would have implications for NFSA evaluation and the integrated management of PDS.
First, the UPDS has become accessible and portable for the state beneficiaries since it introduced the ICT-driven Centralized Online Real-time Electronic (CORE) PDS in 2011-12. CORE PDS is predominantly an online distribution system, but allows limited offline transactions in case of temporary connection problems in fair price shops or points of sale.
Second, beneficiaries in the CORE PDS are permitted to access their ration from any state-notified FPS by authenticating through one of several permitted tools. These include the Smart Ration Card issued by the State Department of Food and Civilian Utilities, the Rashtriya Swastha Beema Yojana Card issued by the State Department of Health, or a registered cell phone number with a one-time password.
Third, the FPS seller inserts the smart card into the Electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) device, which reads the ration card number and sends it to the server via GPRS to get the beneficiary’s entitlement balances.
Fourth, the FPS seller enters the quantities issued to the beneficiary and submits the transaction details. The server updates the transaction and generates a success report. A receipt is then printed and the goods or food grains are distributed to the beneficiaries.
Fair Price Shops by CORE PDS
Fair Price Shops play a central role in the technology-enabled food safety web. The distribution of FPS by ownership is shown in Figure 1. Cooperatives, self-help groups and panchayats account for 99 percent of ownership.
The georeferenced FPS is 12,303, which is 93 percent of the total FPS. 90 percent of the FPS come with the ePoS machine and all but one are operational.
According to the Directorate of Food and Civil Supplies, Chhattisgarh, 200 ePoS machines have been installed in urban FPS.
ePoS was installed in many places and ready for the first use. Most rural FPS use tablets and the ration was distributed by clicking on the beneficiary’s photo.
Such systems can obscure the transparency of UPDS in the state, showcasing the promises of technology-enabled CORE PDS (Nasscom, 2022).
Chhattisgarh’s UPDS model symbolizes ‘food for all’ and is a milestone when it comes to the credibility and portability of the PDS. CORE PDS offers beneficiaries freedom and convenience in choosing FPS or vendors. However, this model or system has some disadvantages.
First, the State Food and Civil Supplies Department’s formula for calculating beneficiaries’ entitlement to NFSA or UPDS is complicated. Beneficiaries with 1, 2 or 3 members are unsure if they are eligible to receive the NFSA or UPDS permissions. Even officials from the food and civilian supply ministries are not on the same page when asked about it.
A linear or simple formula to calculate the allocation per beneficiary would not only ensure distributive equity. It can also ensure parity among cardholders regardless of the number of registered members on a particular card.
Second, beneficiaries often receive kerosene, sugar, and salt along with rice. On the other hand, many beneficiaries, especially in urban regions, prefer wheat and legumes. This makes sense as rice alone may not be enough to meet dietary needs and adequately nourish adults and children.
Third, “food for all” is not consistent with a rational approach when the beneficiaries are well above the poverty line and eligible for subsidized grain under the state’s Food Security Act. Instead of the state-implemented UPDS, the NFSA model can streamline distribution and reduce the state tax burden under TPDS.
Fourth, while the CORE PDS reflects ONORC portability, a fundamental issue of the concurrent NFSA Phase II (2020-23) assessment, beneficiaries under the State Food Security Act (CGFSA) are not eligible to claim ONORC portability take.
Finally, it is suggested that ePoS and digitization can address the issue of ghost or counterfeit cards and that information, educational and communication materials should be properly displayed in the FPS point of sale to prevent FPS or vendors from overcharging food grains Craving.
Dey is Chairman of CFAM, IIM Lucknow and Vatsa is pursuing M. Tech at APJ Kalam Technical University, Lucknow. Views are personal
April 11, 2022