Turning the PDS around

Chhattisgarh govt did not require a Right to Food Act to ensure grains reached the needy. It just set its house in order.

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | June 17, 2010




Dr Alok Shukla is among those civil servants who received awards for excellence in public administration from the prime minister on April 21. As secretary, food and civil supplies department, Chhattisgarh, he, along with two of his colleagues, has been credited with turning the much-maligned PDS into a success story. So much so that a sample survey of four districts by the Right to Food Campaign in November 2009 showed the consumer satisfaction level at 98 percent!  How did he do it? Edited excerpts from an interview with Prasanna Mohanty:

How did the change in the PDS happen?
After I became the secretary, in February 2008, the chief  minister (Raman Singh) asked me to run the PDS well. How do you do it? You monitor the scheme. This involves four steps: computerisation of the department, transparency of operation so that all are able to get information, community monitoring and social audit, and strict action against deficiencies.

The first task began with computerisation of the department’s operation. Every step of the operation, from procurement of food grain to actual delivery to the consumer, was computerised.

Transparency was brought in by putting all information on the department’s website which anyone could easily access. In the next step, gram sabha and other panchayat bodies, municipal corporations and citizens were involved. A citizen’s monitoring technique was also used whereby anyone could register on the website by providing his or her mobile phone number and the number of the fair price shop he or she wanted to monitor. Every time a truck carrying PDS left the godown, these persons received SMS alerts with details like the amount of food grain it was carrying and the fair price shop for which it was meant. Those persons then kept an eye on the operation.

But all these would have been meaningless without strict action to deal with deficiencies. The department’s website provided for registration of complaints. A toll-free number was also provided for the purpose. Every complaint was processed and strong punishments were given to send a signal that the government meant business. We started working on the (monitoring) mechanism in June 2008 and rolled it out in November 2008. Now, people are getting right quality and right quantity through PDS, at right time and at right price.

How did you ensure right quality of PDS supply?
We requested the government of India to let us use our own rice, which is better in quality. It also saves transportation costs. We also adopted quality control measures and good storage practices.

What were the key elements of success?
Transparency and community participation.

Every step of the operation is computerised. The date of procurement is announced in advance, the location is specified. At the time of procurement, weight of the grain procured, name and address of the farmer who sold it and the money he is paid, all these are fed into the computer and a cheque is generated towards payment to the farmer at the spot.

Our website lists every fair price shop and details of allocations (quantity of rice, wheat, sugar, salt etc supplied in any particular month). The name and identity of every BPL card holder is also listed. All fair price shops have been provided with computers.

Anyone can check the details and register a complaint or call on the toll-free number if there is any discrepancy.

As for community participation, why try to control everything from Raipur? Let people at the ground monitor it. We carried out campaigns, through advertisements and other measures, and people responded.

What difficulties did you encounter?
The biggest advantage was the full political support that I got. As I said, the CM wanted PDS to work well. Whatever problem came up could be easily overcome because of this support.

The main problem was that of connectivity. We have 1,600 procurement centres, of which one-fourth are in far-flung villages. We hired ‘runners’. These are pen-drive-carrying youngsters with their own bikes. They were trained and then given fuel and an honorarium of Rs 2,500 a month to go to procurement centres for details and uploaded them where internet facility was available.

Power was another area of concern, to overcome which we hired generators to run the computers. The exercise also involved training and recruitment of additional staff. Nearly 10,000 people were trained to run the operation, which included giving cheques at the spot (at the time of
procurement). This also called for developing the software. Finally, it required a business process re-engineering to ensure better service to the people. But the political support from the highest quarter meant that these issues could be resolved easily.
 

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