This paper examines the Centralised Online Real-time Electronic (CORE) Public Distribution System (PDS) reforms introduced by the State Government of Chhattisgarh, India to understand the processes, and conditions under which real-time monitoring technology-based reforms strengthen accountability and affect the delivery of public services.
Since 2012, Chhattisgarh has been experimenting with improved delivery of subsidised food grains by creating ‘portability’ of entitlements through the use of smart cards, combined with real-time monitoring. CORE PDS followed the earlier two phases of reforms, which included expansion of coverage, de-privatisation and computerisation of the supply chain by including the last mile transaction between the dealer and the beneficiary under. While the earlier reforms have been highly successful, the contribution of CORE reforms has been useful but limited.
A significant finding which emerged was that technological fixes for poor performing social protection programmes are only feasible in so far as they work within the political logic of the context in question. CORE PDS reforms could not address the issues of power imbalances between shop owners and cardholders which continue to shape interactions between them. Introducing transparency, accountability and quasi-market reforms in this context offered limited possibilities in what they could achieve.