New Delhi, June 10 (IANS) The government wants to plug leakages in the public distribution system (PDS) before it implements the ambitious National Food Security Bill and has asked states to complete the process of computerisation of data on beneficiaries by October this year.
The proposed law, a pet project of United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, aims to give legal right to cheaper foodgrain to 63.5 per cent of the population.
According to a senior official of the food and public distribution ministry, the government has also asked the states to complete digitisation of the supply management system by 2013 and connect all the fair price shops (FPS) online by 2014.
"As a result of constant pursuing and encouraging the states to undertake computerisation of the PDS, there is a perceptible change," the official told IANS. He did not wish to be identified.
Around 180 million households -- 65 million below poverty line (BPL) and 115 million above poverty line (APL) category families -- get subsidised rations under the PDS through the fair price shops.
A 2005 study of the Planning Commission showed that about 58 per cent of the subsidised food grains issued from the central pool did not reach the BPL families because of identification errors, non-transparent operation and unethical practices in the implementation of the PDS.
The situation since then has not changed much.
The plan panel has given its nod to a scheme for end-to-end computerisation of the PDS on a cost-sharing basis in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).
As part of the drive, digitisation of PDS beneficiary database has been completed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and Chandigarh, said ministry officials.
While automation of the supply chain has been completed in Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, the process of FPS automation is on in states like Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, they said.
To learn from the experience of the United Nations World Food Programme, the food ministry has signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNWFP for development and implementation of additional PDS projects in Rayagada district of Odisha on a pilot basis.
Stating that digitisation of the PDS was necessary, Biraj Patnaik, adviser to the Supreme Court-appointed Food Commissioners, said the government needs to have clarity on how to go about it.
"PDS digitisation would only help in reducing bogus ration cards. The government needs to have clarity on how to implement it," Patnaik told IANS.
The food ministry has also appointed a team to oversee implementation of the information technology infrastructure for digitisation of the PDS network, as suggested by Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India.