Of the ubiquitous Fair Price Shops (FPS) across the country, as many as 15,300 now serve as agents of financial services for the masses, a move that will catalyze the process of financial inclusion and boost digital connectivity in remote areas .
FPS licensees are finding additional revenue streams, which will serve as an incentive to stay in business and also ensure greater reach of the public distribution system (PDS).
These Common Service Centers (CSCs) currently provide various electronic services to people, including registrations for Aadhaar and PAN cards, booking train tickets, music downloads, checking bank balance and accessing information relating to the eligibility of various programs for citizens of rural areas. areas.
As part of the Digital India initiative, the Ministry of Food in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Computers has identified at least 0.13 million FPS out of the 0.53 million points existing sales centers that have the potential to be reorganized into CSCs.
Currently most of these refurbished outlets are located in Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
In September 2021, the Ministry of Food had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a special purpose vehicle – CSC e-Governance Services India – to increase business opportunities and revenues for FPS through the provision of CSC services.
According to official data, approximately 0.46 million CSCs are currently operated by village entrepreneurs. About 1.5 million people now work directly or indirectly in CHCs across the country.
“FPS owners are required to provide a host of services under the CSC platform, in addition to acting as a correspondent bank for the provision of financial services,” Food Department Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey told FE. and public distribution.
Currently, FPS distributes an average of 60 to 70 million tons of subsidized food grains each year under the National Food Security Act to more than 800 million beneficiaries in the country. Official sources have stated that there is potential to generate additional income from FPS as a large number of people visit these outlets to get their monthly grain entitlement.
The Ministry of Food is currently working on a plan to assign a separate color code to FPSs that are also used as CSCs to distinguish them as public service delivery points.
The ministry, in conjunction with the Financial Services Department of the Ministry of Finance and the State Bank of India, has also approved a scheme that would allow FPS dealers to access bank credit under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, which provides loans of up to at Rs 10 lakh to unincorporated, non-agricultural, small and micro businesses.
“Through access to Mudra loans, FPS dealers can invest in building infrastructure at outlets to sell essential food and non-food items, which would increase their income,” Pandey said.
As FPS become service delivery points for various services, Ministry of Food has also communicated to Ministry of Communications to expand BharatNet connectivity to around 12,000 FPS in states facing digital operation issues due poor network connectivity.
Officials said discussions were underway to allow FPS dealer registration to operate as public data offices under the Prime Minister’s WiFi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI), which would help expand Internet services to people in rural and remote areas.
As part of the reforms undertaken to improve the targeted PDS, the government has initiated several measures such as digitization of ration cards, Aadhaar seeding of ration cards and installation of Electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) machines in the FPS.