Indian States Use Technology to Build Accountability

When noted economist Jean Dreze visited Surguja in Chhattisgarh a decade ago, its utterly non-functional Public Distribution System (PDS) looked like especially “designed to fail.” The National Advisory Committee member has written in a recent article that the ration shop owners illegally sold the grain meant for the poor and “hunger haunted the land.”

But that was then. The economist was pleasantly shocked to see the transformation this time. “Ten years later, there has been a remarkable turnaround on the PDS front. ...The revival of the PDS in Chhattisgarh is a major achievement, of interest to the whole country,” maintains Dreze.

But how could a backward state like Chhattisgarh achieve this? The short answer is, through strong political will and a judicious use of technology. The experiment also proves that the technology can indeed work for the poor, provided we can muster the political will. In the following section, the im4change team presents a brief outline of the turnaround, areas where technology is being put to intelligent use, along with several links at the bottom about the use of technology for building accountability in a worn out system in parts of India.

It is said that Chhattisgarh's great reform began with an idea mooted by the Chief Minister Raman Singh, followed in 2004 with an administrative revamp and a two-year-long computerisation of PDS. The State government first created a network of computers across the 146 development blocks in 18 districts, where details of every beneficiary were put online. Now the beneficiary can track food stocks via SMSs.

The Good News is that Chhattisgarh is not alone in this. Same is the case with Tamil Nadu where the mammoth task of minimising diversion and reaching 317,000 tonnes of rice to more than 1.97 crore cardholders, who draw rations from about 31,439 outlets in 32 districts, involves technological interventions and drawing up innovative fool-proof delivery mechanisms.

Following are some technologies which are making a big difference in implementation of pro-poor schemes in an atmosphere of general cynicism and routine pilferage:

The Biometric Technology:

Biometric technology uses unique biological and physiological characteristics to identify an individual. This technology has been used successfully by governments and private organizations to secure locations and data from unwanted access.

Based on the same principle, the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) aims to issue the unique numbers to around 10 crore people this fiscal. Users will use the UID number to access the PDS and other welfare programmes like the MGNREGA. The number will also allow residents, who do not have passports, driving licences or other forms of identification—particularly people from rural areas—open bank accounts, apply for loans and access other financial services.

UID is expected to solve the problem of misuse/ denial of food items distributed under the PDS.  It is hoped that the use of biometric identification will help to eliminate bogus ration cards, and ensure the inclusion of the genuine poor like migrant labourers and construction workers. Similarly, fixing the monthly foodgrain entitlement on the basis of number of family members seems a relatively more just and realistic way of ensuring food security at individual level. UID would be helpful in this effort.

MGNREGA has been facing complaints of fudging of attendance registers, irregularities in daily attendance in muster rolls, etc. To deal with these complaints the Union Rural Development Ministry constituted a group of experts recently to explore utilising ICT (information and communication technology), UID and biometrics. It is being hoped that these technologies would make it possible to fill the loopholes in the system.

The Government of India is already taking recourse to biometric technology to empower beneficiaries under the MGNREGA, and to reduce the involvement of middlemen. As a first experiment the Union Bank was asked to facilitate the implementation of the scheme, issuing 5000 biometric cards that were to cover MGNREGA beneficiaries in the Itki block of Ranchi district. Under the scheme the beneficiaries will get the money right at their doorsteps, without having to walk miles to collect their benefits.

The Uttar Pradesh govt. is also taking help of biometric technology to eliminate fake entries in MGNREGA. Since July 2009, the state Department of Rural Development introduced the biometric smart card attendance system in 10 villages of two blocks, and this year it plans to extend the same to at least one block in each of the 71 UP districts. Along with a job card, every NREGS worker is given a smart card- the size of a credit card, containing his/her name, picture, age, village, panchayat, block, district, registration date and name of the family’s head. The electronic data entry card is verified by the Block Development Officer, who also has a list of those who have been issued these cards.

Bihar govt. recently launched the E-Shakti smart cards for the financial inclusion of the poor. The project, when completed, would cover 13 lakh people valid for jobs under MGNREGA. Orissa government introduced Biometrics Smart Card for beneficiaries in state’s Rayagada district on a pilot basis in a joint initiative with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The eligible beneficiaries will be issued “multi-model biometrics smart cards’ in place of the existing ration cards. To enhance transparency in distribution, the transaction between the people and ration shops will be posted on the government  website.

On the 64th Independence Day of India the Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar launched biometric technology based smart cards in Haryana and Chandigarh as a pilot project aimed at streamlining the public distribution system (PDS). Smart cards will replace paper cards and the subsidised ration bought at fair price shops (FPS) will be recorded online.


As is evident in the case of Chhattisgarh, computerisation of all data related to PDS is an effective way to make this system work. Though the concept of e-governance was introduced quite some time back, not all states could make a significant progress in this sector. But now when computerised records have been made mandatory under MGNREGA and when the food security is going to become a right, it is only a matter of time when all states will follow the computerisation path.

It is no secret that the problem of fake ration card is rampant in UP. However, the state is now hoping to overcome this with the use of information technology. The process of digitisation of ration cards is going on and according to the State Government about 94% BPL and 92% Antyodaya ration card data has been digitised and made available online. In this process Nearly 12 lakh ineligible cards have been identified since 2007.

Management Information System (MIS) is already beginning to help the implementation of PDS in a big way. According the MGNREGA website, i.e.,, it is already being used in implementation of the scheme for which a web enabled MIS has been developed. This makes data transparent and available in the public domain to be equally accessed by all stakeholders. The village level household data base has internal checks for ensuring consistency and due processes.

It includes separate pages for approximately Gram Panchayats, Blocks, Districts and States & UTs. Same could be done for the PDS. The advantage of putting all the information regarding rural employment in the public domain is enormous. First of all, the users of the schemes -- of course with a little help from the civil society activists or other educated folks -- can collect all information about a particular scheme. For example the website contains all information about what kind of employment and wages are to be provided to the disabled, the aged and the infirm, and what is the status of work demand in a particular block or panchayat. Same goes for the status of asset created, labour and material ratio, average wages paid and progress reports of development works, which are to be uploaded regularly for records and public scrutiny.

The MGNREGA portal includes separate pages for approximately 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats, 6465 Blocks, 619 Districts and 34 States & UTs. This means that all data such as Job cards, demand for work and workers payment details have to be put on public domain. What makes corruption that much more difficult is that each and every sanctioned work to be done under the scheme, the work measurement and the required man-days of employment are to be uploaded on the net for public scrutiny. So far, the information is not being used as much as it ought to be, but there is no denying the fact that these systems of e-governance will go a long way in building a culture of transparency and accountability.

Similar use of technology is also making a difference in the implementation of Right to Education Act, particularly in the recruitment of teachers. Now the HRD Ministry is using customised software for making the teachers’ recruitment process more transparent.


In Tamil Nadu, SMS-based fair price shop stock monitoring has been set up by the Cooperative Department to track the stock of every commodity at each fair price shop on a daily basis. This enables officials to identify stock levels at each shop every day and move stocks swiftly as needed. Under the present network, it is possible to identify a shop that may be involved in diversion of stocks by keeping tabs on sudden increases in rice off-take in a month.

In Chhattisgarh, SMSs are sent immediately to all beneficiaries after a PDS shipment is sent from a distribution centre to a local fair price shop. These two examples have many lessons to offer to all other states.

In Uttar Pradesh the Department of Food and Civil Supplies is also sending SMS text message alerts to villagers to inform them about the arrival of stocks at local PDS outlets. The pilot project has been launched in Behraich and Barabanki districts since April this year. On April 14, text message alerts were sent first time to the villagers. Within four days, 70 per cent of the BPL and Antodaya card holders collected their share of food grain.

In Maharashtra, the Pune district administration adopted this method in July last. It decided to keep villagers informed about the stock of food grain that is being sent to different public distribution system (PDS) outlets in rural parts of the district. The district supply department would send SMSes to villagers.

In the Panchmahals district of Gujarat, in a bid to curb illegal sale of kerosene meant for the poor, the district administration is using SMSs to announce the arrival of monthly stocks. SMSs are being sent to the PDS shop owners and to two persons chosen from each village.

According to the district supply officials around 800 distributors and 1,600 persons from all villages would get these text messages. Kerosene is distributed in two phases every month. The advertisements regarding the information on stocks of kerosene are given to every newspaper in the district.


A GPS-based vehicle movement monitoring system has been tried in Thiruvallur and Krishnagiri districts of Tamil Nadu to track the movement of vehicles carrying PDS goods. Similarly the State Government has introduced an online godown monitoring system for enabling online capture of all transactions in warehouses in a phased manner. To prevent mass diversion of goods by lorry drivers, every vehicle is accompanied by a department assistant who is provided with a special SIM card attached to a BSNL tower and through this the movement of the vehicle can be tracked from the control room in the Civil Supplies Corporation.

Chhattisgarh govt is implementing a scheme to install GPS devices to track the movement of vehicles carrying subsidised rice for the poor in efforts to ensure effective implementation of the Rs.1,000 crore annual food security scheme. The Global Positioning Systems are to be installed in about 600 vehicles that supply subsidised rice for 3.7 million families through the Public Distribution System (PDS).

It is hoped that the proposed Food Se¬curity Bill will make it mandatory for centre and st¬ates to manage their food grains buffer stocks, procurement, movement and delivery to consumers thro-ugh GPS data centres, technology chips and labels. This is aimed at substantially reducing pilferage, diversion of food grains to open market and theft. Geo-coding, a process of finding associated geographic coordinates through radio-frequency identification (RFID) can track down movement of food grains in a second, the experts say.


The GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) are routinely used by common (GSM-based) mobile phones. The technology enables the use of mobile technology for tracking movements and transactions. Handheld billing machines with a GPRS connection have been installed in all fair price shops in Chennai to enable real time monitoring of sales and stocks. A usual complaint of cardholders is short measurement and to avoid this fair price shops are being supplied with electronic weighing machines.

In the present setup, cardholders can register their complaints against the shopkeeper through an online service. Experiments with these modern digital and communication technologies promise a total overhauling of the PDS. And this is the probably strongest ray of hope for the millions of people who still go to sleep empty stomach.

The following links give you the whole picture of many of these experiments of technology use by different states of India. Many of these links pertain to media reports published in recent months about the successful use of technology for the benefit of the poor:

The Business Standard, 10 August, 2010,

The Hindustan Times, 11 July, 2010,

The Hindu, 10 August, 2010,


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