The chairman of the Bihar State Cooperative Marketing Union (BISCOMAUN), the apex cooperative society of the state, Sunil Kumar Singh spoke to SANTOSH SINGH on how BISCOMAUN is using technology to curb corruption.
What were the complaints the cooperative society received when it started the retail sale of subsidised fertilisers and how did you deal with it?
The most common complaints from farmers were about retailers overcharging against our fixed price of Rs 262 per sack (of 45 kg). We came up with the idea of putting the fixed price in black and white on a signboard at every shop. (We said) if anyone charges even Rs 1, call at one of these five mobile numbers and get a reward of Rs 2,000.
The first number (in that list) was mine. We did not put our designations against our contact numbers.
This worked wonders. I was the one who would start receiving maximum complaint calls with callers not knowing they are talking to the BISCOMAUN chief. Rather than complaints moving from lower officials to the top level, it has been other way round.
Ever since we introduced the system in 2017 at our 167 retail shops across the state, complaints about overcharging have reduced to almost zero. It was not just the urge to complain but also the reward money that helped clean up our system. We terminated dozens of our staffers and rewarded many people. In one instance, a shopkeeper had tampered with a digit of my mobile number. He was terminated. It may amount to bragging but I challenge anyone to tell us now that a retailer is overcharging even a rupee more.
There has been a general complaint against a subsidised shop about selling some of its stock to open market at higher rates. What else did you do to ensure it does not happen with BISCOMAUN shops?
We have made the system completely online. In a phased manner since 2017, we have provided laptops and android phones to all retailers now. We have full updates on sale, existing stock and payment. Our fertiliser officer or any other official can see from Patna office which shop sold how much fertilisers.
In 2018-19, we had sold fertilisers worth Rs 380 crore. We also ensure that we have enough stock and there is no law and order problem.
So it was the use of technology that almost eliminated corruption?
Absolutely. It is the strong will and technology that can check corruption. We have tried to present a model of ‘zero tolerance against corruption’, which other cooperative society can replicate.
We had introduced points of sale system in 2017 itself. The Central government made it mandatory for every retail cooperative in 2018. The system tells us exactly the number of fertiliser sacks sold at a shop. It has to match the amount collected at the end of the day. While reward notice created awareness among farmers and terrified retailers, technology has made the system almost corruption-free.
What are other steps BISCOMAUN taking to further ensure retailers stay honest?
We are now planning to put every retail shop under CCTVs to further improve transparency. Our idea is not just to erase corruption from our system but also force the market to regulate its price and put an end to black marketing. Once our shops run short of fertilisers, market dealers start charging Rs 100 more per sack. We want a system in which we are able to meet 100 per cent fertiliser demand of farmers.
But how is the cooperative body still making a profit despite selling urea at Rs 1.5 less per sack than the government price?
We also sell mixed fertilisers and nutrients from plants to make up our losses and also make some profit. But the regulation of price is our main motto.