Of the ubiquitous fair price shops (FPSes) in the country, as many as 15,300 are now serving as financial services agents for the masses, a move that will cataylse the process of financial inclusion and boost digital connectivity in remote areas.
The FPS licence holders find additional sources of income, which will serve as an incentive to remain in the trade and also ensure wider reach of the public distribution system (PDS).
These common service centres (CSCs) are currently delivering assorted electronic services to people, including registrations for Aadhaar and PAN cards, booking of train tickets, music downloads, checking of bank balance, and accessing information related to eligibility of various schemes to citizens in rural areas.
Under the Digital India initiative, the food ministry in collaboration with the ministry of electronic and IT has identified at least 0.13 million FPSes out of the existing 0.53 million outlets which have the potential to be revamped into CSCs.
Currently, most of these revamped outlets are located in Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
In September, 2021, the food ministry had entered into an MoU with a special purpose vehicle — CSC e-Governance Services India — to increase the business opportunities and income of FPSes by way of delivery of CSC services.
According to official data, there are around 0.46 million CSCs currently being operated by village-level entrepreneurs. Around 1.5 million people are now directly or indirectly working at CSCs across the country.
“FPS owners are to provide a host of services under the CSC platform, besides acting as banking correspondent for providing financial services,” Sudhanshu Pandey, secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, told FE.
Currently, FPSes distribute on an average 60-70 million tonne of subsidised foodgrain annually under the National Food Security Act to more than 800 million beneficiaries in the country. Official sources said there is scope for generating additional income from FPSes as a large number of people visit these outlets for getting their monthly entitlement of grains.
The food ministry is currently working on a plan to give a distinct colour code for those FPSes that are also used as CSCs for distinguishing them as public services delivery points.
The ministry, in collaboration with the department of financial services in the finance ministry and State Bank of India, has also approved a plan that would allow the FPS dealers to access bank credit under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, which provides loans of up to Rs 10 lakh to non-corporate, non-farm, small and micro enterprises.
“Through accessing Mudra loans, FPS dealers can invest in building infrastructure at the outlets for selling essential food and non-food items, which would boost their incomes,” Pandey said.
As the FPSes are emerging as service delivery points for various services, the food ministry has also communicated to the ministry of communications to extend BharatNet Connectivity to around 12,000 FPSes in states facing issues in digital functioning due to poor network connectivity.
Officials said discussions are on for enabling registration of FPS dealers to function as public data offices under Prime Minister WiFi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI), which would help extend internet services to the people in rural and remote areas.
Under the reforms initiated to improve the targeted PDS, the government has initiated several measures such as digitisation of ration cards, Aadhaar seeding of ration cards and installation of electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines at FPSes.