Of the ubiquitous fair price shops (FPSs) in the country, many thousands are going to double up 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 in the process will 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).
Over 3 lakh 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 relating to eligibility of various schemes to citizens in rural areas.
Under the ministry of electronic and information technology’s (Meity) Digital India programme, the plan is to increase the number of CSCs to cover close to 6 lakh villages in the next couple of years. While as many as 8,000 CSCs are currently attached to FPSs, the government has a target to set up another 10,000 such service centres in the next one year with the FPS outlets, which are last-mile service centres for implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
A memorandum of understanding exists between the department of food and public distribution (DFPD) and Meity to revamp FPSs as CSCs. The outlets that provide both functions are now located in Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
“We are encouraging FPS owners to provide a host of services under the CSC platform, besides acting as banking correspondent for providing financial services,” Sudhanshu Pandey, secretary, DFPD, told FE.
Currently, there are 5.34 lakh FPSs in the country distributing on an average 60-70 million tonne of subsidised foodgrain annually under NFSA to more than 80 crore beneficiaries. Official sources said there is scope of generating additional income from FPSs 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 FPSs 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 the 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 FPSs 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 12,200 FPSs in states that are 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 Wi-Fi 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, Aadhar seeding of ration cards and installation of electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines at FPSs. At present, over 95% of 5.34 lakh FPSs located across the country have ePoS machines.