With P-PAS paddy payments are on time in Odisha
Biswajit Padhi, Bhubaneswar
Almost 90 per cent of Odisha’s farm produce is paddy. But paddy procurement has always been a sticky problem for successive governments. Every year farmers would block roads and shout slogans because their paddy hadn’t been picked up. Politicians joined them and together they would bring all traffic to a grinding halt.
Many times farmers slept on their sacks of paddy in the mandi (market yard), waiting for the elusive miller or agricultural cooperative society representative to turn up and at least weigh their produce. “Every year payment to farmers for their paddy would be inordinately delayed,” says Birendra Pradhan, a local leader of farmers.
The Odisha government’s Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Welfare (FSCW) department has now put in place an efficient system of procuring paddy and paying farmers through P-PAS (Paddy Procurement Automation System), an e-governance process. P-PAS has digitised all transactions in the mandi. There is an offline version as well for mandis that don’t have net connectivity.
P-PAS received the much coveted national e-governance award for citizen-centric delivery for 2015-16. For a change, both officials and farmers are smiling.
“This is thanks to teamwork,” said Madhu Sudan Padhi, Principal Secretary of Odisha’s FSCW department. “The award will motivate me to constantly improve systems for citizen-centric services so that we have more transparency and accountability. P-PAS was piloted in one mandi initially and I am happy that today we cover 90 per cent of Odisha’s farmers.”
The programme, which is still at an evolving stage, now procures 90 per cent of the paddy produced in the state from 750,000 farmers. In 2014-15, the department picked up 3.6 million metric tonnes of paddy in the kharif season and 1.1 million metric tonnes in the rabi season. The transactions work out to `7,000 crore.
Farmers have been receiving payment in roughly 70 days for their kharif crop and 40 days for the rabi crop, qualifying P-PAS as one of the biggest direct fund transfers in the state.
Under the old system, the tehsildar would issue a Farmer’s Information Card (FIC) to each farmer after verifying how much land he had and the crops he grew. The farmer wasn’t allowed to sell his paddy in the mandi without the FIC. Every year farmers had to go through the hassle of getting their FIC cards renewed.
The State Civil Supplies Corporation (SCSC) managed procurement and fixed targets based on the previous year’s paddy estimates. There was always a mismatch because crop production varied from season to season and district to district.
The Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies (PACS), which bought the paddy for the SCSC, would release payment late to farmers because inevitably figures of procurement and cash to be paid were at variance. Some societies had surplus funds while others faced a cash crunch. The problem came to light when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced calamity relief assistance to farmers affected by Cyclone Phailin. The FSCW had just a small database of unverified farmers and struggled to deliver.
In 2014-15 the FSCW decided to create an authentic database of farmers. The PACS collected information of land owned by each farmer, whether it was irrigated, and the farmer’s bank details.
This data was fed into software which automatically calculated the productivity of the farmer’s land based on the average production for his quality of land.
The PACS, with support from software personnel in the Odisha Modernising Economy, Governance & Administration (OMEGA) project, digitised the data and got bank details of farmers verified. The tehsildar verified all land details.
The government has so far verified the details of 750,000 farmers out of the 900,000 farmers registered in the state. The process is likely to be completed soon.
The data is now available in the public domain in a bilingual format. Any government department can use it to transfer cash benefits to farmers directly, says Rudra Raj Bag, a journalist.
P-PAS is an expansion of this effort. All mandi transactions are uploaded instantly and made available to people in real time. If a farmer in remote Koraput district registers and sells his produce to the nearest PACS, the procurement figure gets automatically updated.
“We can now monitor the amount of paddy the PACS has procured and the finances it has,” says Padhi. Shortage of funds can then be immediately addressed.
“It also helps the department in logistics,” he explains. “The paddy is tagged and bagged for its destination, whether it is the Food Corporation of India or the nearest miller.”
P-PAS is now in place in 160 blocks out of 314 in the state. It ensures that 90 per cent of paddy produced is collected through 2,684 PACS and Self-Help Groups. The department is hoping to cover all 314 blocks this year.
Paddy procurement in Odisha is a gigantic operation. With credit of `8,000 crore available from different nationalised banks, the corporation can release payment faster through P-PAS. Once the farmer deposits his paddy in the mandi and its quality has been checked, his payment is on its way.
The District Central Cooperative Bank (DCCB) transfers the money to the PACS which in turn credits it to the farmers’ accounts. If the farmer has an account in the DCCB, the transfer is instant. If he has an account in another nationalised bank it takes a few days. The DCCBs are making themselves NEFT-compliant so that transfers are faster even if the farmer has an account in another bank.
“The new system has reduced the anxiety of the farmer as he can now check the entire process of payment online,” says Mahendra Dash of Tukla, a big farmer.
“It will also weed out corrupt practices associated with procurement as payments are direct,” points out Sujit Pradhan, a journalist.
Buoyed by the success of P-PAS, the department has started a pilot in Khurda district to bring all operations — procurement and fund management — under one platform. The pilot will be extended to nine districts this year.