PDS consumers can soon have choice to buy goods or get cash

While suggesting a two-phase strategy to revamp the PDS network, the task force headed by UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani said it is desirable the beneficiaries are provided choice of location and mix of commodities and quantities. They can also opt for direct cash subsidy

New Delhi: Public distribution scheme (PDS) consumers will soon have a choice to either get subsidised goods from their preferred locations or receive cash, with the government accepting in principle suggestions of the Nandan Nilekani-headed task force on revamping the Public Distribution System, reports PTI.

These suggestions form a part of the report of the task force on ‘IT strategy for the PDS’ submitted to the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday.

After presenting the report to Mr Mukherjee, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Mr Nilekani said the government has in principle accepted the report of the task force and “it (government) will now process the report and take appropriate action”.

While suggesting a two-phase strategy to revamp the PDS network, the task force said it is desirable the beneficiaries are provided choice of location and mix of commodities and quantities. They can also opt for direct cash subsidy.

Under the current system, a consumer can only buy goods from an assigned ration shop in set quantities.

There are about 4.62 lakh fair price shops (FPS) which distribute commodities, like wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene, worth over Rs30,000 crore every year to 18 crore families.

To check pilferages in the PDS, the task force has suggested extensive use of IT platform and Aadhaar-based bank accounts for providing subsidised food or cash transfers.

Recommending an institutional mechanism for end-to-end computerisation of PDS, the task force has also suggested creation of a National Information Utility or Public Distribution System Network (PSDN) by April 2012 and initiation of pilot projects by December 2012.

The report said Aadhaar (unique national identity card) can be used in PDS to simplify a number of processes.

The focus in the first phase will be on information visibility and transparency, the report said, adding computerisation of ration card is essential.

Aadhaar integration will be implemented in phase II, when sufficient Aadhaar coverage has been achieved.

Mr Nilekani said, “The large focus of the report is to make system more efficient (and) to make sure people have choice.”

The report pointed out that true PDS beneficiaries suffer due to “wholesale problems such as large-scale pilferage and diversion... duplicates and ghost beneficiaries, wrongful exclusion and inclusion.”

Mr Mukherjee asked the ministry of consumer affairs and food and public distribution to examine the recommendations for implementation in a time-bound manner and, if required, to seek the guidance of the EGoM for unresolved issues.

“Participation of states in the PDSN would be voluntary and would not hamper the current efforts in computerisation of the PDS in states,” the finance ministry said in a statement.

The report talks of effective computerisation as a must to achieve the scale, speed, cost-effectiveness, and quality in operations, while respecting the federal structure of the country.

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India may consider financing bailout of Eurozone: FM

“...let them (Eurozone) make a credible assessment of solvency issue, try to sort out those problems and then supplementary financing could be considered. Let us see what the leaders decide,” finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters

New Delhi: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday hinted at financing for sorting out Eurozone crisis after a credible assessment of solvency problem is made, reports PTI.

“Our assessment of the situation is let them (Eurozone) make a credible assessment of solvency issue, try to sort out those problems and then after supplementary financing could be considered. Let us see what the leaders decide,” he told reporters.

He was replying to a query on the Greece government’s decision to seek referendum on a proposed EU (European Union) rescue package which has created a fresh turmoil in the financial markets.

Mr Mukherjee said at even at the G-20 finance ministers meeting in Paris, India had maintained that the European solvency issue should be sorted out by the European nations themselves.

“Let us see what the leaders decide (at the Cannes G20 meeting beginning Thursday),” he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has left for France to participate in the two-day summit of world’s 20 leading economies (G20) to signal a “strong and coordinated approach’ to put the global economy back on track, while addressing medium term structural issues.

Several European nations, including Greece, Portugal and Spain, are facing financial problems and a sovereign default is expected to have a severe impact on the whole region.

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Google to offer free websites to Indian SMEs

“Google India’s goal is to help 5,00,000 small medium businesses in India to get online in next three years through this programme”: Rajan Anandan

Google India said it offered free websites to an estimated 5 lakh small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country.

Google India, the Indian unit of the global internet giant, said on its official blog that it has launched an ‘India Get Your Business Online’ program to provide website, internet domain and web hosting services to SMEs in the country.

“The initiative aims is to break down the barriers that stop small businesses from getting online - by offering a quick, easy and free tool to set up and host a website. Our goal is to help 5,00,000 small medium businesses in India to get online in next three years through this programme,” Google India MD and vice president (sales and operations) Rajan Anandan said.

Interested small business owners would need to submit their PAN (Permanent Account Number) and other tax-related details for verification, after which they would be provided with an online tool for a free website and web hosting service for one year. After a year, website owners will have to pay a charge if they wished to renew their domain name. Under the programme, all interested businesses would also get free email addresses and advertising related benefits.

“While India is home to an estimated 8 million small medium businesses, only about 5 per cent have a website. This program is designed to bridge the information gap that exists online due to the lack of presence of local Indian businesses on the Internet,” Anandan said.

The company has partnered with the U.S.-based Web host HostGator for the initiative. The web firm would also offer free support in creating, hosting and managing the website for a period of one year without any cost through its toll free call centres.

The programme is supported by Federation of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), popularly known as FISME. The non-profit organisation, FISME, will work with Google India to help SMEs get online through direct customer outreach and events.

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