India: Modernising a mammoth

Isheeta Sumra
Jun 21, 2017 · 3 min read

In India, a World Food Programme (WFP)-supported efficiency drive is bringing bar-coded ration cards to the world’s largest food distribution programme. With a third of its people living in poverty, the state of Odisha — formerly known as Orissa — is among India’s worst performers on most measures of social well being. This makes it a good testing ground for reforms to India’s vast food distribution system. WFP is proud to support this modernisation process.

New bar-coded ration cards with biometric identification ensure that beneficiaries eligible for grains under the TPDS receive their entitlements. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

Sushmita is a daily wage worker. With a child to look after and no family support, it’s not easy for her to put food on the table and cover other expenses.

Sushmita who is the sole breadwinner in her family says that access to monthly food entitlements helps her take care of other basic expenses. Photo: WFP

Sushmita qualifies for subsidized grain from the Indian government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) — the world’s largest such programme. It aims to reach 800 million people, or two-thirds of India’s population.

“If I can get basic food at subsidised rates, I will be able to save some money. The savings will take care of my other expenses like medical bills,” Sushmita says.

Forty million people live in Odisha, where the Government is working to modernise the TPDS in line with India’s 2013 National Food Security Act. The first major step in the modernisation was an overhaul of the beneficiary registration system with biometric identification, culminating in the introduction of new, bar-coded ration cards for some 30 million people. The new registration campaign was a mammoth task.

The digitization of the database helped weed out bogus cards, and reach out to eligible beneficiaries. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

A public awareness campaign explained the procedure. All citizens could file applications. These went into a digital database which filtered out ineligible applicants. Field verifications took place. The updated list was then published for public scrutiny before being finalized. It was the first revision of the registration system in 20 years, and saw many ‘ghost’ and bogus cards eliminated from the list.

The new, bar-coded ration cards were then distributed to 8 million households — the eldest woman in every household was registered as the cardholder.

The new cards enable families to collect their monthly entitlements of rice, wheat and millet from any of the 28,000 Fair Price Shops in the state. New electronic-Point of Sale (e-POS) devices are designed to make the process even more transparent: they record all transactions and authenticate biometric credentials.

The system overhaul was aimed at increasing transparency and empowering beneficiaries. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

In Odisha, India, WFP is supporting the Government in the transformation of the Targeted Public Distribution System. The transformation, in-line with the National Food Security Act, is aimed at minimizing leakages, improving transparency, empowering beneficiaries, and helping stakeholders make informed public policy decisions.

“WFP drew on its own institutional knowledge of running food distribution in more than 70 countries, many of them in extremely complex operating environments. We also commissioned research from local experts to identify best practices,” said Dr. Hameed Nuru, WFP India Country Director. “But WFP has so much to learn in India as well.

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation and globally we provide food to 80 million people per year — but the Government of India aims to reach ten times that number through the TPDS.”

Originally published at on April 24, 2016.

For more on WFP’s work in India check out our India Country Page.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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