Beyond Food Security, SMART-PDS Has Transformative Potential

The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), which provides food security to 81.35 crore people every month, is governed by India’s National Food Security Act, 2013. The government is currently executing the Scheme for Modernization and Reforms in the Public Distribution System Using Technology. (SMART-PDS). This project generates massive amounts of data that can be used to enhance the delivery of other government schemes and welfare programmes.

Existing challenges for TPDS

  • Leakage and diversion of food grains: One of the most pressing issues in the TPDS is the leakage and diversion of food grains meant for beneficiaries, leading to corruption and losses in the system. This problem is primarily due to poor monitoring, lack of transparency, and weak enforcement mechanisms.
  • Inaccurate targeting of beneficiaries: The TPDS often suffers from errors in identifying eligible beneficiaries, resulting in the exclusion of deserving households and the inclusion of ineligible ones. This misidentification can be attributed to outdated data, lack of verification mechanisms, and manipulation of records.
  • Inadequate supply chain management: The TPDS confronts logistical challenges in transporting, storing, and distributing food grains across the vast nation. Inadequate storage facilities, inadequate transportation networks, and delays in procurement and distribution all add to system waste and inefficiencies.
  • Benefit portability was limited until lately, which meant that beneficiaries could only get their food grains from designated Fair Price Shops (FPS) in their home states. This restriction made it challenging for migrant workers and their families to obtain the benefits to which they were entitled.
  • Lack of transparency and accountability: Corruption, fraud, and record manipulation are widespread problems in the TPDS, owing in part to the system’s lack of transparency and accountability. These issues are exacerbated by the lack of real-time monitoring and the dependence on manual record-keeping.
  • Many Indian states and union territories encounter technological constraints when adopting IT-based solutions for TPDS operations. Access to IT hardware, software, and technical personnel can stymie the implementation of technology-driven changes such as electronic point of sale (ePoS) devices and biometric authentication systems.

What is SMART-PDS?

  • The Indian government’s SMART-PDS (Scheme for Modernisation and Reforms through Technology in Public Distribution System) programme aims to improve the efficiency, transparency, and accountability of the country’s Targeted Public Distribution System. (TPDS).

The SMART-PDS initiative’s main goals

  • Food grain leaking prevention: SMART-PDS seeks to reduce food grain diversion and pilferage by leveraging technology, ensuring that the intended beneficiaries receive their fair share of food subsidies.
  • Improving distribution chain efficiency: The programme aims to streamline the supply chain from procurement to distribution by incorporating technology-driven solutions such as electronic point of sale (ePoS) devices, real-time monitoring, and tracking systems.
  • Data-driven decision-making: The TPDS ecosystem’s Data Analytics generates critical information about beneficiaries, food security needs, and migration patterns, addressing the long-standing challenge of credible and dynamic data for the efficient delivery of central welfare schemes to vulnerable sections of society.
  • Convergence and AI integration: The national leadership’s drive for cross-ministerial convergence and AI integration has the potential to transform both people and governments by bringing accountability across all programmes.
  • PDS reforms driven by technology: The Centre intends to standardise PDS operations through technology merging with FCI, CWC, transport supply chain, Ministry of Education, Women and Child Development, and UIDAI. This is anticipated to overcome state-level technological limitations in PDS operations and to establish a centralised integrated system for all PDS-related operations across states/UTs.
  • Aadhaar authentication and ePoS devices: With 100% digitization of ration cards and the installation of ePoS devices, Aadhaar authentication accounts for nearly 93% of total monthly allotted foodgrains.

Integrated Public Distribution System Management (IM-PDS)

  • The government has launched the IM-PDS in order to execute One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC), establish a national-level data repository, and integrate data infrastructure/systems across ration card management, foodgrain supply chain, and FPS automation.
  • Since its inception in 2019, the ONORC plan has registered over 100 crore portability transactions.

Benefits of SMART-PDS go beyond rationing.

  • SMART-PDS data has become a tool for central ministries and state governments, benefiting programmes such as the e-Shram Portal, Ayushman Bharat, and the PM-SVANidhi Yojana.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoAFW) intends to map beneficiaries using ONORC/ration card data, and seamless nutrition monitoring from ICDS centres to PM Poshan will become a reality with Aadhaar numbers for the recently born.

@the end

Beyond food security, SMART-PDS has the potential to enable data-driven decision-making, convergence, and integration with AI for better delivery of central schemes and welfare programmes across India.

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