There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of food – Mahatma Gandhi
Food is essential for life and food security is a measure of the availability of this food and the individuals’ accessibility to it. The public distribution network across the country is one of the mainstreams of the concept of food security for the nation.
From the time when the nation was looking to other countries to meet its basic food requirements to the present time when we have a surplus, things have changed only for the better. It would not be incorrect to say that the public distribution system has contributed significantly to the integrity of the nation. A direct proof is that independent India has never seen famine deaths compared with the number and frequency during the British rule.
The public distribution system involves purchase and supply of essential commodities, primarily wheat, rice, sugar and salt, to the food security cardholders. In Telangana, 2.75 crore people benefit from this system. They are provided 6 kg rice per person per month at Re 1 per kg. The poorest of the poor, the Antyodaya, totalling about 5.5 lakh families receive 35 kg rice per family per month.
Telangana is one of the few States in the country where the public distribution system is completely Aadhaar-based. Following the introduction of ePoS (Electronic Point of Sale) biometric-enabled devices, and, of late, IRIS biometric devices, 99% of the transactions are done through this and are traceable. This project, in its entirety, was launched last April. In the last 10 months, sufficient data of monthly transactions – person-wise; area-wise and quantity of transactions — has been obtained.
Successive governments tried to use different ways, techniques and parameters to weed out ineligible beneficiaries. However, this has been a tedious process and has had obvious political implications.
The Telangana government, in a path-breaking initiative, has started utilising artificial intelligence and mainstreaming data analytics with respect to public distribution. The aim of this is to develop insights into public distribution and take policy decisions based on these insights. This would improve transparency and accountability in the system. It would also provide tools for operational planning and course corrections in the organisation as well as the public distribution network.
Cost-Efficient and Effective
Detection of potential frauds and leakages are major advantages that lead to maximum utilisation of available resources; improve cost efficiency and effectiveness.
Thus, the main objective is to employ advanced data analytics techniques on centralised databases to bring about continuous improvements in public distribution operations. Advance level data analysis and MIS (management information system) generation are the key components of this initiative.
The step involves defining parameters and key performance indicators (KPIs). This is followed by using defined parameters — queries that are run on the entire data available to find the required information on a monthly basis and at the fair price shop-level. This information is then used for analysis of trends, anomalies and also for highlighting data for oversight and monitoring of targeted public distribution.
Over the past 10 months that these analytics have been used, we have benefitted immensely. This is reflected in terms of beneficiary management where the State was able to identify families with more than seven members and with less than two members. This is especially important in terms of Antyodaya cards where the allocation is family-wise rather than based on individuals.
We were able to identify families where the head of the household was a male in spite of an adult female member being present. Readers would be aware that the National Food Security Act looks towards the head of the household being an adult female member so as to accrue better benefits with respect to the targeted public distribution. Similarly, the name of same member in different food security cards was also identified.
The supply chain and grain accounting monitoring led us to patterns of distribution month and commodity-wise. The utilisation of grains at various fair price shops and supply chain efficiency with respect to transportation from warehouse to fair price shops was improved.
A benefit that will impact our policy planning in the future is the fair price shop status regarding the number of food security cards attached to each fair price shop in the State and the viability and revenue earning ability of each fair price shop.
The analytics has given us data with respect to geographical distribution of fair price shops and we are in a position to plan better. Grievance redressal with respect to resolution; trend and categorisation of grievances would be the next targeted approach using this technology.
The public distribution system is meant for ensuring food security in the country. An efficient and effective public distribution goes a long way in nation-building. Mainstreaming data analytics and use of advanced artificial intelligence techniques on these databases will bring about continuous improvement in this effort.
(The author is Commissioner, Civil Supplies, Government of Telangana)