My Priority: Cashless PDS by March End
With a target to equip all ration shops across the country for cashless transactions by March-end, Union Minister of Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan bares his mind, in an interview to Smart AgriPost, about his commitment developing an effective and transparent food grain procurement system and bringing a new Act to protect the interest of consumers.
Q. What was the most significant achievement of your ministry during 2016?
Ans– We could complete the implementation of National Food Security Act in all the States and UTs during this year, no doubt, is a big achievement for me. It has enabled over 80crore people of the country to get Wheat Rs.2 /kg and Rice Rs.3/Kg. When we came to power, food law was being implemented only in 11 states. I am happy now it is being implemented in entire country. It was the commitment of the government for the poor, we actively pursued with all the States/UTs for its implementation.
Not only that we could also improve the delivery of food grains under this system up to doorsteps. For the first time, Rs.2200 crore has been released to State Governments as central assistance to meet the expenditure incurred on intra-state movements of foodgrains and fair price shop dealers’ margins. Earlier State Governments were required to either meet this expenditure on their own or pass it on to beneficiaries.
On consumer front, we got new Bureau of Indian Standard Act to ensure quality products and services for common man besides several new provisions for redressal of consumer grievances. We launched an Integrated Grievance Redress Mechanism (INGRAM) portal for bringing all stakeholders such as consumers, Central and State Government Agencies, private companies, regulators to a single platform. Keeping in view the increasing number of calls to the National Consumer Helpline, the number of desks in the National Consumer Helpline has been increased to sixty.
Q. What are the immediate priorities of government?
Ans-Now we will focus on further reforms in PDS, which will include ‘end to end’ computerization of the system for which States/UTs are being technically and financially assisted. It is important for bringing transparency in the functioning and check. My Ministry is regularly monitoring the progress, in fact on daily basis.
The beneficiary’s data base has been digitized in all the 36 States/UTs, and now it is in the public domain. Online allocation of food grains in being done in 29 States/UTs, and the entire food grain supply chain has been computerized in 19 States/UTs.
I want 100 percent linkage of Ration Cards with Addhar, which is about 72% at the moment. We are also perusing the States to install ‘e-PoS” device, an electronic point of sale device which authenticates beneficiaries at the time of distribution and also electronically captures the quantum of food grains distributed to the family. So far such devices are operational at about 1, 77,000 fair price shops. This will make system further leak-proof.
I have also asked FCI to make food grains procurement operations fully online so that farmers get their payment directly in their accounts and system becomes fully transparent. A software for this purpose has been developed, 12 major procuring States are now using Online Procurement Management System (OPMS) for MSP procurement operations. I would like other States to go online from coming procurement season.
Making consumer redressal system more effective is other priority area. A mobile application that allows a consumer to register and monitor complaints against defective goods/deficient services has been launched.
Q. What is your vision for 2017?
Ans. We will try to further strengthen food and nutritional security for people during the year by making the public distribution system more efficient. To address acute malnutrition in the population, a strategy of fortification in Food has been initiated in consultation with all Stake holders, the standards for fortification of Wheat Flour, and Oil have made and for rice fortification are being considered. I hope Fortification will be taken up in the coming time in big way.
I also want to ensure effective consumer protection regime in the country. My Ministry is ready with new Act which has many outstanding features to ensure effective and simplified redressal mechanism for consumers. I hope the bill get nod of Parliament in budget session.
Q. How is the ministry preparing for cashless?
Ans. My Ministry has adopted cashless work culture in its working almost completely. Food Corporation of India (FCI), Central Warehousing Corporation(CWC), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India Limited (NCCF) have also introduced cashless working. FCI foodgrains and pulses procurement operations are cashless. Payments are made through cheques and RTGs (Real time gross settlement systems). In fact, Rs 703 crore payment for procurement of pulses in the 2016 kharif season was made online only.
We have issued an advisory to State Governments to promote cashless transactions at ration shops by installing Point of Sale (PoS) machines. We will equip all ration shops across the country for cashless transactions by March-end.
A plan to meet this target has been prepared in consultation with State Governments. You can imagine how cashless movement will get a big boost when most of the 80 crore beneficiaries under the food security law start adopting cashless transactions.
The Prime Minister has taken a historical step to address corruption and the move to go cashless is towards that direction. My ministry is fully ready to take this further.