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Technology at the core of foreign aid distribution, ensuring full transparency: Niti Aayog CEO


The task of managing the flow of foreign aid is massive, says Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who heads a panel mandated to monitor the distribution of relief material. In an interview to TOI’s Surojit Gupta and Sidhartha, he explains the process and how technology has been leveraged to make it transparent. Excerpts:
There is criticism that needy hospitals and institutions are not getting part of the aid?
There are three channels through which aid is received – Government to Government (G2G), Private to Government (P2G) and also through States, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) directly to those impacted by Covid-19. In P2G, NITI Aayog coordinates with the prospective donors through the CovAID platform which allows individual and private donors to fill in their intent to donate and track the status of their shipments. For G2G and P2G channels, we have leveraged technology and have two state-of-the-art portals which ensures that the entire process is completely digital, allocations shall be done by the ministry of health and family welfare as per a standard operating procedure (SOP).
Given the limited quantity of aid received, we cannot afford to spread it too thinly, hence, an optimal allocation must be made. Priority is accorded to medical hubs and states/UTs which have high-caseloads. This keeps changing because different states are peaking at different times. We also give importance to states/UTs which have scarce resources as well as those which may have physical connectivity issues which would result in slow movement of logistics, if sent at the last moment.
What is the scale of the operation and how much of it is automated? What has been the flow of aid in the past few days?
The scale of the operation is massive. We have received over 2 crore individual units of various items. Technology is at the core of this whole process of international aid received and distributed. We have developed robust and efficient portals for P2G and G2G channels with an all-pervasive visibility that ensures that not only the speedy distribution of the aid, but also its real-time tracking and monitoring. The portals have been developed in partnership with the private technology companies like Flipkart, Nagarro, Cloudstack, MapMyIndia, Freshworks, Amazon and Microsoft. We have on boarded logistic service providers, Indian Airforce, Indian Airlines and other stakeholders onto the platforms so that the end mile delivery of the aid is done smoothly and transparently. We have completely eliminated the need for manual intervention and paperwork required during handovers.
This mechanism also allows for real- time tracking of consignments through the GPS tracking system present in all the trucks carrying the assignments. Utilization of consignments can also be tracked and a nodal officer from each state indicates the final destination of all aid being allocated to a particular state, which is fed into the platform. The platform tracks the location and delivery of the items and also sends reminders to states in case an allocated item has not been delivered to a particular location. The state nodal officers also have the provision to raise issues such as item and specification mismatches. Overall, we have received the highest number of items from USA, UK, Australia, UAE, Canada, Israel, Netherland, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, Kuwait, Singapore and Ireland. We have also received 89 consignments from the P2G channel, all of which have been allocated, while 39 are in transit.
How are you convincing foreign countries and private companies which have donated aid about the transparent process being followed in allocation?
We have an extremely robust monitoring system, which has the provision of not just tracking the location and status of their consignments but also checking utilization. This is done by means of geo-tagged photos and videos, which have to be uploaded by final destination institutions. This feature ensures that all items reach target destinations and are in operation and has been introduced to ensure that life-saving equipment is immediately put to use after delivery. The utilization information can be shared with donor countries and private donors to reassure them about the full use of aid provided.
Why are people still complaining of delay and difficulty despite the steps that have been taken?
We do encounter some challenges in the entire process. At times, we receive items which do not meet the medical specifications or voltage specifications. Then, at times the arriving flights or consignments differ from the pre-informed timings, which does present some logistical challenges. We also have to ensure a continuous cold chain for some drugs such as Tocilizumab. In fact, almost 95% of what has been received to date has been delivered, the
remaining is in dispatch only because it would have been received in the last two days. All items received before that were delivered. I would like to stress that despite challenges, we have ensured that all items received are immediately dispatched. No item remains pending or is delayed, either by customs or for any other reason.
Several donors are facing difficulties in providing relief material to NGOs that have not complied with the new FCRA norms. They are unwilling to accept the donations despite the government extending the deadline. Is it time to put it on the backburner till the end of the pandemic?
Civil Society Organisations/NGO’s have played a key and significant role in the fight against the pandemic. This war has to be fought in a decentralised manner on the ground. The existing FCRA holders have been permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to open their FCRA account in a designated bank branch up to 30th June. MHA has also extended the validity of the registration certificates under FCRA to September 30. This deadline was extended keeping in mind the COVID-19 situation and the associated exigencies and also to ensure a smooth transition to the amended FCRA regime.
Is there still need for more equipment and aid? Has the situation stabilised?
We have received aid from 40 out of the 50 countries who have pledged assistance so far. We are expecting 22 more consignments to arrive. The situation is evolving dynamically and as you would have seen, different cities and states are peaking at different times. Places which were witnessing extremely high caseloads a few weeks ago are now declining whereas infections are rising in other areas. We are still seeing a lot of cases from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. At the national level, the recoveries are steadily improving and in terms of vaccination, we have administered over 19 Crore doses so far. As explained earlier, the SOP for allocation takes into account the case burden as well as resource scarcity besides other factors. Hence, we would continue to allocate dynamically through the same process to ensure an optimal distribution. Our robust tracking and monitoring mechanism also ensures timely delivery and effective utilization.
What role has been played by the private sector and NGOs during the pandemic?
The private sector has played a very important role and their efforts range from augmenting the oxygen supply chain to providing life-saving medical equipment. Let me give you some examples- Amazon, Microsoft, Philips Foundation in partnership with Shell, Naspers and Johnson and Johnson are all bringing in life- saving medical equipment such as ventilators and concentrators. In terms of oxygen supply, Reliance, INOX Air Products, JSW, Linde and Tata are all playing a pivotal role in catering India’s increased medical oxygen demand. Tata Trusts, Escorts are setting 1000+ bedded facilities whereas Honda, Hero Moto Corp are building 100 bedded facilities. Industry associations, meanwhile, are helping the government boost the oxygen supply chain, organizing medical equipment and also bringing together private sector companies to undertake vaccination of employees and help the government undertake awareness measures. We have been engaging regularly with over one lakh NGOs and CSOs and invited them to help combat the pandemic.
These NGOs/CSOs are working at the grassroots and assisting the district and local administrations in their efforts which include distribution of food, masks, sanitizers, providing support to institutions and health care centres, providing livelihood opportunities, psycho-social counselling, awareness generation on the importance of vaccination and COVID appropriate behaviours, dispelling myths besides others. CSOs and NGOs were also guided to
make use of http://indiafightscovid.com/, which was jointly developed by ministry of health and family welfare , the NITI Aayog and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create awareness at the community level so that COVID spread is vigorously controlled and false information is not spread.





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