IoT and Public Distribution System (PDS) in India
If you were given the power of IoT just for a day, to improve the lives of people in India, how would you use it?
We would want to use it to solve one of the most basic needs of this country– “HUNGER”
For a country of 136 Cr. people & being the 2nd largest democracy in the world, drafting and implementing policies for basic necessities like food, public transport, health care is a tremendous challenge in itself.
A system to tackle this basic necessity of food has been in existence from the times of World War II and has been evolving over years and under different governments. At present, existing Public Distribution System (PDS) is a food security system established by Govt of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution to distribute Essential food items — Rice, Wheat, Sugar and other non-food items like Kerosene to BPL ration card holders at subsidized rates. Under the basic National Food Security Act (NFSA), each BPL family is eligible for 35kg essential grains per month and each APL family is eligible for 15kg essential grains at nominal prices.
Apart from this there are various other schemes like -
- Other Welfare Schemes (OWS),
- Pradhan Mantri Grameen Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY),
- Atma Nirbhar Bharat Package (ANBP) etc.
All these and many more were introduced during the 2020 pandemic when most of the population remained unemployed due to the lockdown!
But most of these schemes suffer terribly due to inefficiencies, malpractices, bogus cards, inferior quality food grains, corruption and other system loopholes. Just to quote one of the recent instances of this issue — “ During the COVID lockdown only 33% of allocated food grains under ANBP was distributed to migrants and Gujarat which lifted 88% of this allocation has distributed only 1% of it. “
Some grass-root level inputs that we received when we spoke to our house helps and nannies are depicted as a complete existing journey map –
Journey Map — How PDS works for end users today
Governments are trying to do their part with the new upcoming system which has been partially implemented in upto 20 States/UTs is — One Nation One Ration Card Scheme — a citizen will be eligible to avail the ration from any state with the same ration card which will also be linked with Aadhaar database.
e-PDS schemes have been implemented in States like Tamil Nadu, Chennai using e-POS machines at the fair price shops and with 3 separate segments of ration cards — Green, White & Khaki
e-PoS Machines for digital ration card authen & Different types of Ration card segments in Chennai
But well, we still have some demons to tame:
- Manual intervention
- Time flexibility for end users
- Flexi payment methods
- Swapping of stocks with low quality grains and other misuses
With IOT, this can be made much more fool-proof , robust & flexible for end users.
You must have seen the purified drinking water dispensing units installed in various cities. In many cities across Karnataka we can get 20ltrs purified drinking water refilled to a can for just Rs.5/- at these units. So why not use a similar system for essential good grains & allied products?
Mysore R.O purified water dispensing plant
Imagine an Automated Connected System which houses essential grains and other commodities in bio-degradable weather-proof packaged units like 5kg bags of rice etc. dispensing monthly ration using a digital One Nation One Ration card for authentication & payments can be done digitally using Jan Dhan ATM or prepaid Cards or UPI payments. More flexibility can be brought into payments by introducing a nominal credit limit on the JanDhan ATM cards , for scenarios when it is mid of the month and their bank balance is low. As all the details can be monitored using the integrated Ration-Aadhaar card database and these connected units, we will be able to track consumption patterns — quantity of grains, who consumed it, from where & when.
These analytics can be used tomorrow to skim out any inefficiencies in the system & bring in new initiatives
Proposed solution — Task Flow
These intelligent systems would be weatherproof and be able to monitor the quality of food grains stored in these units. Their status being constantly monitored by the godowns that they are connected to & in turn by the central database.
As manual intervention is avoided and all the data monitored & maintained, most malpractices can be curbed with the advantage of the food grains being available 24X7 for the needy which is usually away at a day job during weekday morning times while the secure and flexible modes of payment act as an advantage for both the Government and end-user
Apart from the malpractices at point of sales, a lot of food grains get wasted at the Storage Godowns. India today is producing surplus food grains but still we have a sizable section of society with almost no food. This is also due to the ancient storage methods of gunny bags, godowns that are not weather-proof or rodent proof and almost no digital monitoring.
Proposed Smart Godown system
In 2019–20, 0.002% of food grains procured by the government for PDS and other schemes were wasted or not consumable which in actual numbers in 1930 tonnes. IoT has a huge potential to prevent this from happening. Smart connected rodent proof godowns with weatherproof packing for the grains can prevent spoilage, track & maintain quality, curb theft & malpractices.During natural calamities this data can be used to quickly source food from nearest storage godowns with surplus produce.
On the other end the definition & benefits for different sections of society — BPL , APL and any other PDS schemes — AAY ( Anthyodaya Anna Yojana ) need to be made more clearer so that there is no misuse of the benefits at the consumer end. In addition to this, the annual socio-economic survey should be conducted and the eligibility of card holders should be updated and validated to prevent wastage for the Government.
This is just the tip of the iceberg!! IoT has tremendous potential if used ethically and efficiently.
Like they say “A country where the rich use public transport is a truly developed nation”, to make India a truly Developed Nation, we absolutely need to uplift the basic living standards of the economically weaker section of the society.
This article was a co-authored with Anjana Murthy for an internal tech journal at PwC AC , Bangalore.