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Tablet cop to stop food theft

- Baby steps towards digitising PDS

Ranchi, May 11: Jharkhand has started to digitise its public distribution system (PDS) as a part of the National Informatics Centre’s (NIC) pan-India initiative to monitor foodgrain theft, but for now only on a pilot basis across six blocks of as many districts.

Part of the larger Rs 160-crore central project, Jharkhand is starting with distributing tablets and hand-held computers to 200 of the state’s 22,500 PDS dealers in blocks of Ormanjhi (Ranchi), Govindpur (Dhanbad), Khunti (Khunti), Ramgarh (Ramgarh), Jamshedpur (East Singhbhum) and Latehar (Latehar). The devices have been despatched to the first two places.

“For now, we are spending Rs 60 lakh to buy hand-held computers and another Rs 30 lakh on tablets. We have the software for smooth functioning of machinery. Let us hope our pilot project is a success,” said Pradeep Kumar, principal secretary of food and civil supplies department, which is implementing the project jointly with the state IT department under NIC’s guidance.

“We have been struggling to bring about transparency to PDS supplies. Thanks to technology, the state headquarters will be able to keep direct tabs on activities on the ground (read PDS dealership points),” Kumar added.

It is an established fact that theft is massive in India’s mammoth public distribution system. To add to the mess, mismanagement of stocks at godowns after bumper harvests leads to huge waste.

To plug these gaps, NIC is working to computerise systems in all states and track the movement of foodgrain and essential commodities straight from the government’s buying point till it reaches the intended beneficiary.

In more developed states where PDS digitisation started much earlier, beneficiaries get smart cards they swipe at the PDS dealership points, enabling the details of transaction to be visible on the respective centralised monitors.

In Jharkhand, beneficiaries will use Aadhaar cards for now and graduate to smart cards later. PDS beneficiaries who own cellphones will also get text message alerts on the availability of ration at their respective outlets.

Leading IT companies such as Wipro and HCL have been roped in as consultants to execute digitisation, while a Hyderabad-based firm has supplied the devices.

On the location of the centralised computer that will monitor transactions on the hand-held computers and tablets, officials said the state data centre at Nepal House in the capital was likely.

An effective PDS figures prominently on the common minimum programme of the Hemant Soren government.

But, to what extent hand-held devices and tablets will help Hemant and his political allies in the Assembly elections later this year, remains to be seen.

JMM MLA Simon Marandi, who had been food and civil supplies minister before he was formally expelled from the state cabinet last week, had struck a discordant note on the last day of office.

“I am not involved in the decision to supply hand-held devices, tablets or computers to PDS dealers. I am only concerned that people get foodgrain on time,” said the former minister whose rift with his party is widening over his son Dinesh William not getting the JMM’s Lok Sabha ticket for Rajmahal.