New Delhi: PDS consumers will soon have a
choice to either get subsidised goods from their preferred
locations or receive cash, with the government accepting in
principle suggestions of the Nandan Nilekani-headed task force
on revamping the Public Distribution System.
These suggestions form a part of the report of the task
force on `IT strategy for the PDS` submitted to the Finance
Minister Pranab Mukherjee today.
After presenting the report to Mukherjee, UIDAI Chairman
Nilekani said the government has in principle accepted the
report of the task force and "it (government) will now process
the report and take appropriate action".
While suggesting a two-phase strategy to revamp the PDS
network, the task force said it is desirable the beneficiaries
are provided choice of location and mix of commodities and
quantities. They can also opt for direct cash subsidy.
Under the current system, a consumer can only buy goods
from an assigned ration shop in set quantities.
There are about 4.62 lakh fair price shops (FPS) which
distribute commodities, like wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene,
worth over Rs 30,000 crore every year to 18 crore families.
To check pilferages in the PDS, the task force has
suggested extensive use of IT platform and Aadhar-based
bank accounts for providing subsidised food or cash transfers.
Recommending an institutional mechanism for end-to-end
computerisation of PDS, the task force has also suggested
creation of a National Information Utility or Public
Distribution System Network (PSDN) by April 2012 and
initiation of pilot projects by December 2012.
The report said Aadhaar (unique national identity card)
can be used in PDS to simplify a number of processes.
The focus in the first phase will be on information
visibility and transparency, the report said, adding
computerisation of ration card is essential.
Aadhaar integration will be implemented in phase II, when
sufficient Aadhaar coverage has been achieved.
Nilekani said, "the large focus of the report is to make
system more efficient (and) to make sure people have choice."
The report pointed out that true PDS beneficiaries
suffer due to "wholesale problems such as large-scale
pilferage and diversion...duplicates and ghost beneficiaries,
wrongful exclusion and inclusion."
Mukherjee asked the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food
and Public Distribution to examine the recommendations for
implementation in a time-bound manner and, if required, to
seek the guidance of the EGoM for unresolved issues.
"Participation of states in the PDSN would be voluntary
and would not hamper the current efforts in computerisation of
the PDS in states," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
The report talks of effective computerisation as
a must to achieve the scale, speed, cost-effectiveness, and
quality in operations, while respecting the federal structure
of the country.