Food Security: The Public Distribution System

foodPartner: Vivek S, CDDRL Stanford University


The Public Distribution System (PDS) is an Indian food security system established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and is managed jointly with state governments in India. It distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor. Major commodities distributed include staple food grains, such as wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene, through a network of public distribution shops, also known as Ration shops established in several states across the country. Food Corporation of India, a Government-owned corporation, procures and maintains the Public Distribution System.


India has a Public Distribution System with over 600,000 shops that distribute subsidized food grains and other essential materials in villages every month. In the state of West Bengal, the entitlements of the beneficiaries can change every month, and can be different in each district. Thanks to this variation, beneficiaries often do not know how much rice, wheat or kerosene they are entitled to making it easy for them to be cheated by the dealers.


Information on the entitlement of a person can be easily accessed through a photocopy from the government.  We plan to help our partner disseminate this information through automated phone calls using a hosted Interactive Voice-Response (IVR) platform called  We are looking for people with php & mysql backgrounds in order to build the app that would interact with Kookoo.  A technical partner will be available to work with the team.

With the help of a regularly updated database of food items, prices and allocated amounts per district, an application can be set up where ration card holders call a number and key in their block code (every ration district is organized into blocks with unique codes). Once the app gets the block code from the caller, it can then read out the entitlements. This can also be performed over SMS, but tests on the field have shown that there is a preference for voice-based interaction, since SMS is still a relatively underutilized feature on older generation mobile phones. Some other common problems with SMS are: the sms inbox is usually full, unused, English literacy is a hurdle for SMS, low-cost phones manufactured in Chine do not display local language script and so on. Moderators and volunteers from the field can send a structured sms to populate the price/amount info every week to keep the database updated.

Tools – being used in field tests currently – IVR platform

Food Security Bill

India recently passed a very important piece of legislation, the Food Security Bill. This is an ambitious piece of legislation. It has dramatic costs, and equally dramatic outcomes if successfully implemented.

The task is to read the text of the food security bill and other relevant documents, and produce a summary sheet of the principal provisions, costs and putative benefits of this bill.


PRS Legislative Research:
@PRSLegislative on Twitter

Text of the bill,%202013.pdf

The Parishudh Sanitation Initiative


The Parishudh initiative aims to increase access to sanitation infrastructure in rural Northern Karnataka.

The program began in 2011 October, and has the following goals:

  • Help 10,000 families in North Karnataka have a toilet of their own in 40 villages, and educate at least 100,000 families about having a sustainable toilet of their own

  • Encourage entrepreneurs to get started in the area of building sanitation facilities for the public and to sustain this as businesses in the long run

  • Build reusable artifacts including designs, partnerships and processes to make the initiative easily repeatable elsewhere in India

Parishudh has built more than 11,000 toilets for individual families in the region already. The team has also held awareness programs for more than 200,000 people, such as toilets summits, IEC sessions, competitions for school children, sponsoring youth fests and so on. Parishudh has also created Nirmal Gram Samithis in villages with the intention of helping people to organize and implement other developmental initiatives. The NGOs partnering with Parishudh are SPRED, Indus foundation, RUDISET, Vikas Academy Yadgir and Gram Yuva Seva Sangh Kannal.


Parishudh has set up a process for the construction of toilets for rural homes.


First, it performs a village-wide awareness event to talk about the problems related to open defecation, and the many benefits of having toilets at home. This awareness event addresses several issues such as privacy concerns, convenience for women and children, the problem of female students dropping out of school when they hit puberty, disease and so on. A survey is done on all villages in the area, and this awareness program is usually attended by 200-300 families.


When rural homeowners sign up for the program, a cost-sharing arrangement is set up. Parishudh pays for half the costs of construction, the NREGA program pays for a quarter and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan program pays the remaining quarter (both are government-backed programs). The total cost of construction of a toilet for one family is R. 15,000 ($240).


When the payment structure is settled, construction is completed in less than a fortnight, using as much local labor and material as possible. Care is taken to ensure strict standards in design and implementation. The handover happens when construction is completed.


1. Parishudh Real-Time Progress Webcaster

How can we design a method for people from all over the world to check in on Parishudh’s progress in real time?

An interesting map, video chat, instant messaging and real-time update mash-up would serve to allow people to see the progress of awareness programs, surveying, construction and hand-overs of completed toilets. This can also serve as an excellent method for people to develop a core understanding of the impact being made by Parishudh, and to contribute their time, money and ideas to its progress and expansion.

Program recommendations – Parishudh maintains a Salesforce account to administer master data of all projects – current, completed and planned. The web app could pull the records from here, build necessary custom reports and automatically update real-time progress on a map. The areas the app could generate reports for include – construction dashboard, awareness campaigns conducted, events planned, families in queue etc. Whereas Salesforce will remain to be a management database, the Parishudh Webcaster will use this database to share progress online.

Sustainability – Parishudh will implement and maintain the app, and take it forward after the hackathon. Interested participants could most definitely continue to work with Parishudh in the future. Volunteers who wish to follow up are welcome!

2. The Nudge App – pushing Government programs to deliver on their promises

How can we nudge government departments who run important development-focused programs to complete their deliverables on time?

Need: One of the reasons why toilet construction in rural areas is not up to speed is that the government incentive announced (of Rs.9,200 or $150 per toilet) is NOT reaching the families on time. Currently, the time to deliver varies anywhere between 30 days to 2 years, with many families still not having received the grant. As a result, people keep postponing construction until they are sure that the money will be disbursed.


A benchmarking application that allows for the following activities would help:

  • Downloads the data from government departments of people who have reported that a toilet is built, or submitted an application for construction

  • Keeps periodically checking the progress related to the application

  • Generates a weekly alert on days it is taking for an application for moving from one stage to another (submitted, approved, inspection due, certified for payment, payment done).

  • Publishes a state wide, district-wise, gram Panchayat-wise comparative performance report. A publicly open comparison of performance would create a sense of urgency in concerned gram Panchayat officials and also create more awareness in people about the benchmark.

The crux here is to build interface with the NIC (National Informatics Center) that maintains the government data.

Sustainability – Parishudh will implement and maintain the app, and take it forward after the hackathon. Interested participants could most definitely continue to work with Parishudh in the future. Volunteers who wish to follow up are welcome!

Images from Parishudh on the field

World Bank – Open Data Challenges for India


The World Bank has given us source material for a lot of interesting data sets on India. The challenges are based on a few seed ideas that can be built around this data. Participants are free to explore all the links, and develop their own solutions on visualization, planning and mapping tools.

Data Sources

Development Data

Here you will find jumping off points to several datasets, including:

  • Development indicators

  • Micro survey data

  • Climate change data

Financial Data

Here you will find links to data related to:

  • Lending/grants to public sector projects from the World Bank (IBRD, IDA)

  • Major contracts from Bank-supported projects (Public sector)

  • Private sector projects supported by IFC

  • India as a donor to World Bank trust funds

IBRD and IDA Projects in India: Public Sector*

Includes data on locations and results:

IFC Projects: Private Sector$$Search?OpenForm

IFC Investment Services projects:

IFC Advisory Services projects:

Strategy for World Bank Group in India for the Next Five Years

Provides a macro perspective of what, where, how, and why the Bank Group will invest in India:

Also includes poverty projections till 2030

Challenge Ideas

1. District-level indicators base map for mapping development projects

Challenge: With the detailed district level household data available in Census 2011 (and other open data sources as they become available), there may be an interesting opportunity to create district-level base maps with indicators that correlate closely with poverty – such as households with no toilets (see example below), and plot the relevant World Bank projects, contracts etc. (in a particular sector)  to visualize the granular patterns of Bank’s funding spread. This will be especially relevant for visualizing the Bank’s work (and the work of other development organizations) in the low-income and special category states* that are being targeted by the Bank in the next five years.


Data Sources

India Census

WB Projects

WB Maps

Special Category States

2. India’s Open Data Landscape

Challenge: India has a large, evolving open data cataloguet It would be an interesting exercise to map the data dimensions, coverage, usage crossed with the Open Data Census: This could perhaps also include some kind of analysis of what data published by India makes it into international sources and what data that isn’t published may also be of interest (e.g. related sub-national data or disaggregated / source data)


3. Inspector Crowd: Local Development Data in Action

An auto-rickshaw driver outside the World Bank office in Chennai openly wondered – “They have no ATMs?”.  Jokes apart, World Bank may still be a distant entity for some citizens. You read about it in the press but do you know if the road built outside your house was supported by the Bank?

Challenge: How can the World Bank data be made comprehensible for common citizen to track money related to Bank supported development projects in their local contexts: public and private sector? Simple, clean, localized UI – possibility to provide feedback on projects, contracts, and ensure that funds are being spent for the intended purposes? Can an application help mobilize citizens impacted by project in specific locations visit projects/share their feedback on contracts data?

Data Sources