What steps can the government make to make the PDS distribution more effective?
India is all set to take a leap forward in PDS with the introduction of One Nation, One Ration Card Scheme. The government must keep three considerations in mind while thinking about the “One Nation, One Ration Card” initiative.
Empowering the Individual
The structure of the PDS system needs to be redesigned to empower individual beneficiaries. The state of Aadhaar survey 2017-18 reported that nearly 6.5 per cent of PDS beneficiaries in Rajasthan were denied ration because the shopowner claimed to be out of food grain. This translates to over 3.5 million people in Rajasthan alone.
The main reason behind such drawback is the beneficiary has no mechanism to question whether the shop owner is telling the truth or diverting rations.
The Andhra Pradesh Model could be adopted to arrest such tendencies. The government of Andhra Pradesh collects feedback in real-time through a mobile-based system. Adopting such a system will enable tracking denial of service on a real-time basis through mobile-based surveys. Further, the beneficiaries must be empowered to track the ration stocks in the PDS shops on a real-time basis.
The operational backbone of the PDS must be restructured to promote portability. State governments must be brought together on a single platform through which state governments can communicate with each other (what technologists call “interoperability”) to ensure that portability works seamlessly across states.
The system should be based on “open APIs” under which states can customise the user interface to their local needs, and add features and additional entitlements as they deem fit.
Addressing Privacy and Exclusion Risks
While the government is taking necessary steps to integrate Aadhaar with PDS to prevent leakages, the government should actively address privacy and exclusion risks resulting from the use of Aadhaar and the problems a centralised PDS platform can lead to.
The UIDAI has introduced privacy-protecting features such as virtual ID and tokenisation. But only a few are actually using them. The government should encourage every section of society to understand and use these features through both online and offline methods.
It is also necessary for the government to acknowledge that authentication failures will happen in any biometric system. But that must not become a sole criterion for denial of services. To prevent denial of service, the government should ensure availability of non-biometric means of authentication (such as OTP or PIN), as well as manual overrides.
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