Nothing can exemplify the magnitude of public service delivery and its required effectiveness better than the countrywide public distribution system (PDS) in India. Considered to be the world’s largest public service delivery system, PDS is abound with stories of large-scale malfunctioning and opacity in the supply chain of food items sold at subsidized prices.
Millions of poor consumers who rely on PDS seek a streamlined supply chain for their daily rations. They also want to be saved from the whimsical and arbitrary manner in which PDS officials and owners of fair price shops often behave. In a country with close to 35% of its population living below the poverty line, it is all the more essential to achieve a certain level of socio-economic democracy.
The Unified Ration Card Project of Chhattisgarh could be an ideal model. The state department of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs undertook in 2007 the massive exercise of computerizing data—from paddy procurement to storage, milling and distribution of rice and other commodities to close to four million ration-card holders through 10,416 fair price shops.
With this, 1,532 paddy procurement centres, 50 storage centres, all concerned district offices, 99 Civil Supplies Corporation distribution centres and 35 Food Corporation of India rice receiving centres have been computerized, covering six organizations. The Chhattisgarh Unified Ration card project received the Manthan Award in 2008 in the e-governance category.
Other efforts at public service delivery are worth mentioning. ePDS is an automated PDS management application system run in Chandigarh, which comprises various modules for better and effective management of the PDS system as well as a linked comprehensive website for information dissemination. ePDS was a nominee for the Manthan Award 2008.
Gujarat’s step towards e-Procurement (a fully web-enabled application that covers the procurement process from notice inviting tender to issuance of a letter of intent) for all the purchases and procurements in all government departments and societies under the administrative control of the state highlights technological capacity to ensure a greater level of public trust in government functioning towards service delivery.
The sahaj-saral-safal integrated, automated and web-based grievance redressal system in Orissa was devised to enable seamless registration of feedback from citizens, and the implementation status and post-implementation impact of welfare schemes. It is considered to be India’s first grievance registration and redressal system with information and communications technology features such as a toll-free telephone network and a Web interface.
Despite a success-failure ratio heavily tilted towards the negative, the power of technology in enabling transparency in public service delivery is being realized. It is important to avoid duplication of such e-governance projects and the emphasis should be on learning and sharing of experiences for replication and scaling up. Community involvement is essential to run and sustain such programmes.
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award. He has recently released his third title Digital Inclusion for Development—Cases from India and South Asia.
He can be reached at email@example.com