The Indian government sets apart Rs 65,000 crore every year for food subsidies, but more than half of the grains meant for the poor never reach them, thanks to mass pilferage and diversion to open markets. Now, satellite technology and barcoding may be able to wipe out this menace at a fraction of the subsidy cost, if a recommendation from the Unique ID Authority of India goes through.
At an approximate cost of Rs 500 crore, five lakh trucks ferrying goods for the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) can be outfitted with global positioning system (GPS) units, which track vehicles in real time as they ply the length and breadth of the country. At any moment, authorities can track the exact location of a truck fitted with GPS.
According to technical experts, GPS devices installed in trucks cost around Rs 10,000 per unit. Barcoded bags may cost another Rs 800-Rs 1,000 per unit as they will have to be specially made for mass usage. Currently, only a few logistics companies and trucks owned by certain corporate houses in India use GPS technology to track goods movement. GPS is a global satellite-based navigation technology, which provides reliable location and time information in all weather and at all times.
The initiative stems from the government’s move to ensure food security for the poor by strengthening the existing TPDS scheme. The suggestion to install GPS in trucks carrying goods meant for below-poverty-line (BPL) families comes after repeated reports of leakages and grains getting diverted to open markets.
“Installing GPS and using barcoded special storage bags for foodgrain are among measures mooted by the UIDAI,” a government official told FE.
According to a Planning Commission report, 57% of grains meant for BPL families never reach them. Under the proposed Food Security Bill, the government will ensure 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 per kg to over 74 million BPL families. The success of the legislation will depend critically on ensuring that TPDS foodgrains reach the intended recipients. The government, through Food Corporation of India, on an average allocates 2.7 million tonne of rice and wheat to states every month.
The Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) estimates that there are 5 million trucks in India with 4-49 tonne capacity used for transporting goods, including food grains. “Of the 5 million, there are only 1.6 million trucks which have national permits and of these, 65-70% transport non-food items. There would be around 4 lakh trucks with national permits and another lakh in the states that transport food grains,” SP Singh, senior fellow and coordinator of IFTRT, told FE.
TPDS covers around 20 crore poor families in India. There are around 5 lakh fair price shops, which stock foodgrains and distribute them to poor families at subsidised prices.